Bombs won't delay talks

Blasts in Israel seen as effort to derail peace negitiations today

`They will not succeed'

37 people wounded

Israelis, Palestinians vow to pursue peace

November 08, 1999|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NETANYA, Israel -- On the eve of final-status peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, three pipe bombs exploded at a busy downtown intersection in this midsized coastal city yesterday, injuring 37 Israelis.

The Israeli government and Palestinian Authority vowed to start the talks today on schedule, despite the bombing, which Israeli authorities viewed as an attempt by terrorists to derail the peace process.

"We are tough and experienced people, and no one will be able to shake us," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "There are elements who will try to torpedo the peace process. They will not succeed. The government and the security services will smash the terrorism."

There were no fatalities. Two of the victims suffered moderate injuries and the rest were slightly injured, police said.

The attack, in central Israel about 20 miles north of Tel Aviv, renewed questions about the Palestinian Authority's ability to stifle terrorism, a key Israeli demand in the peace process. But Israeli officials said the Palestinians had been cooperating in the fight against militants.

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority said: "This attack is aimed at sabotaging the peace process. Especially now that we are close to beginning final-status talks."

"We hope we can give the peace process the chance it deserves," said leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The new round of talks will deal with the most serious issues standing in the way of a permanent peace: the fate of Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood, Jewish settlements, the return of refugees, final borders and water rights.

Yesterday's attack was unusual in that it occurred in the Israeli heartland, well outside the political and commercial centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Netanya, a pleasant city laid out with parks and palm trees, has drawn unwelcome attention recently as a center of organized crime.

The three pipe bombs blew up next to a trash can on Herzl Street, Netanya's main thoroughfare, about 10: 30 a.m. A fourth bomb, possibly intended to go off after the arrival of rescue workers, was defused.

The metal pipes were packed with explosives and nails, which act like shrapnel.

David Ratson, who was standing at the crosswalk, said he was hurled into the center of the street. He said that when he got up, "my shirt was burning," and rescue workers tried to put out the fire. Doctors later removed nails from his back.

"There was a lot of panic. I saw a lot of blood outside and people shouting for help," said Edna Ninhoff, who works at Season's, a women's clothing store at the corner where the bombing occurred.

One of the bombs tore a hole in the store's wall.

The blast left black scorch marks on the sidewalk a few feet from where Orna Simche sells newspapers. She dashed into a nearby gift shop and escaped serious injury.

Some of the injured did not seek treatment immediately. Coby Jacobnya had left a bank and was headed to an electronics store when he heard three explosions. He awoke with a headache and arm injury and entered a hospital later after vomiting spells.

By late last night, police said they did not know who was responsible for the explosions, but drew a connection to a minor bombing incident in the city last summer.

Police arrested two residents of Palestinian-ruled territories who were in a car midway between Netanya and the West Bank, 10 miles away, but later released them. Police detained 70 Palestinians during a general roundup in the area, but released them as well.

On Saturday, the military wing of the Islamic group Hamas issued a statement threatening to resume attacks in Israel.

"The Zionist regime, in the coming weeks and months, should prepare itself for a wave of armed attacks, which will take different forms," Hamas said.

However, there were no immediate claims of responsibility for yesterday's bombing, and Hamas' civilian leadership in Gaza made a point of distancing itself from the attack.

"We refuse attacks on civilians," said Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the organization's founder. "No one has claimed responsibility. I can't say who was responsible for it."

While Hamas has not refrained from attacking civilians in the past, its practice has been to stage large-scale suicide bombings.

Another Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, said he did not know the source of the statement issued Saturday.

A Palestinian official, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, pointed the finger at "certain forces in Iran," drawing a sharp retort from Hamas' spokesman in Tehran.

But yesterday's Hamas statements were dismissed by one terrorism expert here as merely attempts by the group to avoid being crushed by the Palestinian Authority, which tolerates Hamas' political and civic activities.

Ely Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, said he thinks Hamas or possibly the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad was responsible for yesterday's bombing.

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