2 attacks, retaliation in Mideast

13 Israelis killed in cafe bombing, hotel shooting

Israeli army strikes back

Increased efforts by diplomats fail to stop violence

March 10, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - At least 11 people were killed and scores injured last night when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up inside a coffee shop near Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's home as the Mideast endured another day of widespread violence.

The blast at the Moment Cafe came just a couple of hours after two Palestinians attacked the lobby of a hotel in the coastal city of Netanya. Firing automatic weapons and hurling grenades, the men killed a baby girl and wounded 57 other people. An Israeli man died when police killed the gunmen.

The renewed violence caps the deadliest week in the 17-month Palestinian uprising, which set new standards of horror in a place accustomed to bloodshed.

A flurry of peace moves in Western and Arab capitals failed to stop the violence.

Israeli political leaders said the twin attacks were designed to thwart a cease-fire bid by the United States and plunge Israel into a regional war.

Senior Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of running "an academy of terror."

The Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, claimed responsibility for the cafe bombing. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of Arafat's mainstream Fatah political faction, claimed responsibility for the shooting at the hotel.

Both groups said they were retaliating for last week's sweeping Israeli military campaign, which left more than 120 Palestinians dead, 44 on a single day, in a series of bombings and of invasions of crowded refugee camps.

The campaign responded to a series of terror attacks last week - including suicide bombings outside a religious school and the cafe and a sniper attack at a military checkpoint - that claimed the lives of more than 40 Israelis.

Israel's army wasted no time retaliating against the attacks in Jerusalem and Netanya, launching bombing raids shortly after midnight today that targeted Palestinian buildings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and injured dozens. Among those hit was Arafat's Gaza City office building. The building was empty.

Troops also stormed at least two more refugee camps, one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip, where the army said gunbattles raged for hours and wounded many Palestinians. A senior Palestinian intelligence officer was killed by tank fire in Ramallah.

The Netanya and Jerusalem attacks abruptly ended a lull that had left most of yesterday free of violence. At the end of the Jewish Sabbath, many people dined out or strolled along Jerusalem's streets to enjoy the warm evening.

Others settled in to watch popular television shows, which were interrupted with news of the shooting and the bombing.

In the Jerusalem attack, a man in a soccer shirt covering a bomb strapped to his waist walked through the covered garden area at the cafe about 10:30 p.m., past an armed security guard and into the front entrance, where he set off the explosive.

The Moment Cafe, in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood 100 yards from Sharon's home on Azza and Balfour streets, is considered one of the best in the city and is typically packed on Saturday nights.

Oren Schmur, 25, who was sitting in the back of the cafe and escaped unharmed, said the 20-year-old bomber blended in well with the crowd.

Sharon was at his other house in the Negev, in southern Israel, but because the bomb hit so close to his Jerusalem home - and up the street from the American Consulate - security around the scene was especially tight. Police said the proximity of the bombing to Sharon's house was a coincidence.

Witnesses described bodies scattered about the floor and others in chairs, their food still on their tables.

A bloodied, tearful woman carried to an ambulance screamed, "Why? Why?" Another woman inside frantically searched for her injured friends. A police officer held a sobbing woman who had collapsed.

Hospital officials said more than 50 people were injured, several seriously, in the blast, which blew out windows and singed tables and chairs.

Two hours earlier, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire in the lobby of the Jeremy Hotel in Netanya, a northern seaside city. The hotel is near the boardwalk, a popular area lined with restaurants and bars. And the lobby was packed with guests checking out after having stayed in the hotel. The pair then threw grenades.

They ran as police approached, taking an Israeli hostage in an alley. Police said the Israeli died in their shootout with the gunmen, who were killed. Police said they do not know whether the Israeli was killed by the officer or the Palestinians.

Israeli television showed empty baby carriages turned on their sides, luggage strewn in large puddles of blood and injured people sprawled on the hotel floor. Many of those injured were leaving for a celebration before a wedding. Among those wounded, six were injured seriously.

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