Blasts rip Israeli mall Terrorist attackers hit Jerusalem again

192 people are injured

3 bombers, 4 others die

Government quickly seals off West Bank and Gaza Strip

September 05, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Three suicide bombers struck in the heart of Jerusalem's cafe district yesterday, killing four other people, injuring 192 and littering the stone pedestrian walkway with blood, glass and body parts.

The terrorists -- who also died in the 3: 10 p.m. attack -- exploded their bombs within view of each other on Ben Yehuda Street.

The injured included several American tourists, and the four Israelis killed were identified in radio reports as two 12-year-old girls, a 14-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man.

The streetscape of coffeehouses, flower shops and Middle Eastern eateries has been a target of terrorists in the past; it is a popular shopping thoroughfare for Israelis and tourists.

Israel sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- home to about 2.5 million Palestinians.

It was only days ago that Israel lifted the closure it had slapped on the occupied territories after two suicide bombers killed 15 people at Jerusalem's outdoor Mahane Yehuda market.

The attack, claimed by Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the Middle East peace process, occurred within five days of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright's first trip to the region.

The July 30 bombing at Mahane Yehuda market occurred on the eve of a visit by Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sternly warned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that Israel would strike against Islamic militants if he did not do so.

Visiting the wounded in a Jerusalem hospital, Netanyahu said, "We will take all the decisions required. We are not ready to continue in this way.

"We are not ready to continue in a situation whereby the terrorist organizations go around freely in Arafat's areas, whereby they announce they intend to kill more Israelis, burn more Israeli flags."

Arafat, bitterly criticized by Israel for not rounding up suspected terrorists after the Jerusalem market bombings, also denounced the attackers.

"I condemn completely these terrorist activities, which are not only against the people who lost their lives but against the Israelis, the Palestinians and the whole peace process," he told reporters.

2 Hamas leaders arrested

Palestinian security forces arrested two Hamas leaders in the West Bank hours after the bombing, Palestine Liberation Organization officials and relatives of one of the men told Reuters.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, secretary of the Palestinian authority, said yesterday's bombings were an attempt to "sabotage the peace process." He said the authority would cooperate with Israel to ferret out the terrorists responsible for the Ben Yehuda attack.

The military wing of the Islamic resistance group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombings in two telephone calls to Agence France-Presse.

One caller directed the news agency to a leaflet in Ramallah that demanded the release of Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.

A cell in the military wing dubbed the Martyrs for the Release of the Prisoners cited imprisoned Sheik Ahmed Obed, the leader of an Islamic terrorist group in south Lebanon.

The terrorist attack occurred as hundreds of pedestrians filled the Ben Yehuda mall on a breezy, sunny afternoon.

First one nail-packed bomb exploded, then a second and a third, all within seconds. One of the suicide bombers might have been dressed as a woman.

The convivial, lively atmosphere of the street deadened with the blasts. The air filled with plumes of smoke and panicked screams.

Plate-glass windows of lingerie shops, boutiques and gift stores shattered from the blasts, sending shards of glass flying like shrapnel.

The patio umbrellas of the Cafe Atara, where diners had been seated moments before, were stripped of their green canvas.

The stands lay toppled on the ground like wind-torn umbrellas. Red plastic chairs were strewn about the street.

Dudu Hazen, 23, was on his way to a bookstore when the explosions ripped through a section of the mall, which is several blocks long. He froze in his tracks.

He said he was surrounded by "pieces of people."

The blood of the dead and injured pooled on the stone pavement. It stained lacy lingerie in storefronts that had been blown out. Blood was smeared on building facades three stories up.

As police, Israeli soldiers and rescue workers arrived, orange and white plastic sheets began appearing on the ground, covering severed body parts.

Religious Jews, wearing plastic surgical gloves and orange fluorescent vests over their traditional black clothing, and other volunteers combed the area for human remains, trying to ensure proper burials.

Uzi Israel, the owner of Pizza Ben Yehuda, looked grimly at the front of his ice cream machine. Bits of flesh and blood clung to the steel casing. "If I had stayed sitting here, I would have turned into this," he said.

Moments before the triple blasts, Israel had followed a customer into his shop.

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