In Hadera, attacks sow seeds of doubt

Latest violence begs response -- but what?

January 19, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

HADERA, Israel - The residents of Hadera returned downtown yesterday, paused at the newest sidewalk memorial along the main street and wondered whether and how Israel's government could protect them from another terrorist attack.

Three people here died in a suicide blast aboard a bus last November. Four died in a shooting attack at a bus stop last October. Sixty-seven people were wounded when a car bomb exploded at the bus station last May. Sixty-one were injured two years ago by a roadside bomb.

The candles burning yesterday were outside David's Palace, the banquet hall where a Palestinian gunman shot and killed six people at a bat mitzvah Thursday night before he was killed by police.

The government's response followed a familiar pattern. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered fighter jets to bomb a Palestinian security building in the West Bank, killing two people, and sent tanks into Ramallah, which triggered clashes with the army that left a stone-throwing Palestinian protester dead. At the same time, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer urged an American mediator to return and boasted that he had kept Sharon from waging all-out war on the Palestinians.

"We need a strong government," said Shlomi Eldatov, 49, a jobless immigrant from the former Soviet Union. "All the government should be together. If you have a government that is half and half, it doesn't work."

The Israeli public seems as divided as the government. A poll published yesterday by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that 42 percent of the people surveyed want peace negotiations, 27 percent want a war and 25 percent want to keep things the way they are.

In Ramallah, Israeli troops blew up the Voice of Palestine radio station early this morning, setting the five-story building on fire when the explosive charges detonated, witnesses said.

Israeli soldiers, accompanied by tanks and bulldozers, had entered the building to lay the charges and clear away its occupants and onlookers. The army had no immediate comment.

Yesterday, two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier moved within yards of Yasser Arafat's headquarters, confining the Palestinian leader to his office complex. Israel said it was turning up pressure on Arafat to go after Palestinian militants.

Prime Minister Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said Arafat was "restricted to his quarters until he fulfills his obligations."

Arafat has complained that Israel's reprisals were part of a secret plan by Sharon to topple him. Arafat remained secluded in his office, avoiding a walk across the courtyard of his compound to the mosque where he normally attends noon prayers. Instead, he prayed with aides and security guards in an empty, carpeted room.

Palestinian security officials said Arafat skipped the walk to the mosque because he did not want to expose himself to Israeli view.

Israeli bulldozers piled earth across one of the four access roads to Arafat's compound, blocking traffic. Nearly two dozen tanks took up positions in about half of Ramallah, and troops searched the home of the Palestinian intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi.

At one point, about 4,000 Palestinians marched toward Arafat's office to protest the Israeli incursions and demand the release of suspected Palestinian militants held by the Palestinian Authority, including Ahmed Saadat, whose faction killed Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October. "Palestinian Authority, traitors, release the political prisoners," the crowd chanted.

About 200 marchers later threw stones at Israeli tanks. Troops fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live rounds. Three Palestinians were wounded by live fire, including one who was in serious condition.

In Hadera, Russian immigrants spent the day burying their dead. The girl celebrating her bat mitzvah, Nina Kardashova, had immigrated several years ago with her family, and many of the guests and victims were from the former Soviet Union.

Among the dead was the security guard hired to protect the guests, the son-in-law of the banquet hall's owner, a member of the band and Nina's 63-year-old grandfather.

"The terrorist destroyed the happiest day of my life," Nina told the newspaper Maariv.

The rampage ended when the gunman's rifle jammed, and guests overpowered him and dragged him outside, where he was shot and killed by a police officer and an Israeli-Arab.

As the funerals went on, people visited the banquet hall. They peered in through the windows at the overturned tables and piles of table linens used as stretchers and bandages. The Russian ambassador came, as did a taxi driver named Chaim Yagodagev.

Three years ago, he, his wife and children left a region near Chechnya to rebuild their life in Israel. He is not sure he made the right choice. "Why did we come?" he said yesterday. "We came to live a peaceful life, and now we tell our children not to play outside and not to go into the shopping mall."

Hadera's residents said they wanted their leaders to make up their minds about how to restore order. They wanted the government to decide soon - peace or war.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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