Scores hurt as bomb rips Israel

Lunch blast kills 2, wounds more than 100 in Jerusalem

`The worst it's ever been'

Female bomber dies

mission could mark deadly shift in tactics

January 28, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - In yet another attack on the city's violence-ridden main thoroughfare, a woman believed to be a Palestinian detonated a bomb yesterday, killing herself and an elderly bystander and wounding more than 100.

Yesterday's explosion occurred yards from a bus stop where a Palestinian raked the street with bullets last week, killing two women, and across the street from a Sbarro's restaurant where a suicide bomber killed 15 people in August.

And it came at a low point in relations between Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the United States.

Jaffa Road had reopened by dusk, but most stores remained closed and crews worked into the night to make repairs on what in normal times is Jerusalem's busiest street.

"What kind of combat soldier has gone through more attacks than me?" asked Komars Malkan, a clothing merchant whose store has been a fixture on the street for 14 years. "Every day we open and we hope the situation will improve. Right now is the worst it's ever been."

Most of the injuries involved people in shock, but many were wounded by shrapnel and glass from dozens of windows shattered by the thunderous lunchtime blast that tore apart a strip of shops next to a lottery kiosk.

The victims included a man from Long Island, N.Y., who left the World Trade Center's south tower just before it was hit by a hijacked plane Sept. 11, and three Brazilians on a passing tour bus.

Amid the chaos, Jerusalem's police chief, Micky Levi, 50, suffered chest pains and walked a block to a hospital, where he collapsed from what doctors said was a massive heart attack. He underwent surgery and was in good condition last night.

Sixty-five stores and 15 offices and apartments were damaged. One shop caught fire, and the street - stained with blood and littered with burning and scorched debris - was a wasteland.

Jerusalem police said last night that they were unsure whether the woman intended to blow herself up in a suicide attack or had planned to place the bomb on the sidewalk and run away, only to have it go off prematurely.

If it turns out to be a suicide mission, it would be the first time during the 16- month conflict that a woman has carried out such an attack in Israel - adding another dimension to the protracted struggle and indicating that the pool of people willing to kill themselves for the Palestinian cause is far more diverse than previously thought.

"We are already stretched, and if we are facing women as well as men, it will make it much more difficult for us," a senior Israeli army official said. "There was concern that the use of female bombers could be a tactical shift, as suspicion is less likely to fall on women and they are more free to maneuver."

The bomber had not been identified last night, and no group had claimed responsibility for the attack. Police said they could not confirm whether the woman was a Palestinian.

Palestinian leaders condemned the attack, the third in the heart of an Israeli city in five days, but Israeli officials quickly blamed the latest bloodshed on Arafat and vowed to answer with military strikes. The Palestinian Authority issued a statement yesterday saying that "it strongly condemns the suicide attack against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem" and pleading for the United States to return a mediator to restore order.

Cheney criticizes Arafat

But in television interviews yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated the United States' displeasure with recent actions by Arafat and the authority: "We've seen evidence that [Arafat] was involved in a shipment of 50 tons of sophisticated weapons from Iran to the Palestinian Authority that was recently intercepted by Israel."

Asked whether Arafat, who has denied any involvement in the arms shipment, is a liar, Cheney replied: "We don't believe him."

Cheney said the capture of the weapons indicates that Arafat is working with Lebanon-based Hezbollah, "a terrorist organization," and Iran, "a state devoted to torpedoing the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians. Cheney declined to say whether he has urged President Bush to sever ties with Arafat. He noted that Arafat has been the recognized representative of the Palestinians but said the escalating violence "raises serious questions [of] whether Mr. Arafat is, in fact, really interested in moving forward with the peace process."

Arafat must "make a 100 percent good-faith effort to put an end to terrorism," Cheney said. "So far, he hasn't done that."

The Palestinian Authority called on Israel to "immediately lift the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and their leadership in order to enable [it] to carry out its national and security duties."

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