TEL AVIV, Israel - Reeling from the deadliest - and one of the crudest - terrorist attacks against their people in years, Israeli officials found themselves at a loss yesterday to suggest new ways to guarantee the security of the population.
Heavy shelling of Palestinian buildings, assassinations of leaders who plan attacks, a siege on Palestinian civilian areas - all have been tried in an effort to subdue the Palestinians since the uprising began Sept. 28.
None of these prevented a 35-year-old Palestinian bus driver from apparently using his vehicle as a weapon, killing eight Israelis and injuring at least 20 yesterday at a crowded bus stop south of Tel Aviv.
"It must be realized that there's no way to completely prevent a person like this, who gets up in the morning and, for whatever reason, decides to carry out an attack and does so," said Israel's top policeman, Inspector General Shlomo Aharonishki.
Khalid Abu Olbeh of Gaza City smashed his vehicle into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and commuters at a bus stop, hurling victims into the air and leaving bodies strewn across the road. The eight Israelis killed included seven soldiers - four women and three men.
After police gave chase, the driver was captured on the road to the Gaza Strip when his bus rammed a truck. Badly injured in the hips and leg, the man was captured and taken to a nearby hospital. His leg was later amputated.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak immediately ordered that Palestinian territories be sealed off. For the time being, no Palestinian workers will be allowed into Israel, and Palestinian officials have been barred from entering the country. This has been a frequently used response to Palestinian attacks.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have been forced to reconsider the idea of allowing even relatively few Palestinians to hold jobs in Israel.
But Israel refrained, for the time being, from a harsher response. Rather than having been recruited by a Palestinian terror organization, Abu Olbeh appears to have acted alone, possibly spontaneously.
Barak also was apparently restrained by President Bush, who urged both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to stop the cycle of violence.
Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, who defeated Barak in elections this month, did not say what he would do in reply, but stressed that "proper measures" must be taken "to return security to the lives of Israeli citizens."
He took the occasion to say that attacks against Israelis can occur on both sides of the border, countering Barak's argument that a separation of Israelis and Palestinians is necessary. Sharon is against cutting the number of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories to divide the two populations.
"The Palestinian terror organizations do not distinguish between Tel Aviv and Hebron, between Hedera and Ariel. Terror hits Israeli citizens wherever they are," Sharon said. Hebron is a West Bank city, Hedera an Israeli town and Ariel a large Jewish settlement.
Although two obscure terror groups claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack, Abu Olbeh did not appear to have ties to any terror organization, an Israeli army spokesman said.
At age 35, married and with five children, he doesn't seem to fit the profile of the young zealots usually prepared to die for the Palestinian cause. Abu Olbeh's Israeli security clearance to drive buses into Israel had recently been renewed.
"It looks like an `atmosphere attack' [by) someone influenced by incitement, hatred, education," said Yarden Vatikay, a spokesman for the Israeli army's civil administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The setting was vividly familiar to anyone who travels on Israel's roads. Every day, young soldiers in rumpled drab-green uniforms, rifles slung over their shoulders, crowd bus stops on major highways, some waiting for buses and others stepping off the curb to hitchhike. If Abu Olbeh was intent on killing soldiers, he found an easy target.
According to his brother, Hussein Abu Olbeh, 46, the driver awoke yesterday at 3 a.m., as usual when he was working, and left for his job transporting Palestinian workers to work sites in the Tel Aviv area. Dozens of Egged Bus Co. employees transport Palestinian workers into Israel daily.
After dropping off the last of his passengers near Ramle, he was supposed to go to an Egged depot to wait for the riders to return in the afternoon. Instead, according to an Egged spokesman, he headed to the major Azur intersection, about six miles away. There, his bus jumped the curb at high speed and plowed into the waiting crowd, witnesses said.
The bus literally "went over them," Aharonishky said.
"Suddenly, I saw a bus driving fast up on the curb and simply hurling all the people and all the soldiers to the side," Moshe Saroussi, a 19-year-old soldier, told reporters after being treated for shock. "It drove over the people."