Israelis concerned about new phase of terror attacks

Palestinians expected to shift toward more targeting of strategic sites

May 25, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - After three terror attacks in 28 hours, including a thwarted car bombing early yesterday, Israeli officials warned of a new phase of Palestinian attacks that might include a shift toward making targets of strategic sites with methods more sophisticated than those used by lone suicide bombers.

The prime minister's office issued a communique yesterday claiming that Israel had foiled 32 terror attacks since the end of the army's extensive military sweep through the West Bank on April 24.

But there was a growing sense that whatever lull the operation had brought was at an end.

Even Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was openly acknowledging that the recent offensive, in which scores were killed and thousands of Palestinian men were rounded up in Israel's largest military operation in 20 years, had heightened the motivation of Palestinian militants.

"We are faced with a wave of suicide bombers," Ben-Eliezer said yesterday with evident despair.

The latest suicide bomb attempt came at 2 a.m. yesterday, when a Palestinian tried to drive a car packed with pipe bombs into Studio 49, a popular Tel Aviv nightclub where about 200 Israelis were dancing.

A quick-acting security guard, Eli Federman, 36, opened fire on the driver, and the car blew up before it could slam into the club. Three people were injured.

"I fired one bullet at him," Federman, a former soldier in the Golani Brigade, told reporters. "He fell out of the car and blew up. After the blast, I shot him twice in the head, and then moved closer and emptied the rest of the clip in his head."

Tel Aviv Police Chief Yossi Sedron found himself delivering the same quote to reporters at two different incidents in less than a day: "A huge disaster has been prevented."

The other incident occurred Thursday when a tanker was blown up by remote control, nearly setting off an explosion in Israel's biggest fuel depot in a congested area of Tel Aviv.

Officials said yesterday that the bomb was set off by a cellular telephone attached to the bottom of the truck with a magnet and was almost impossible to detect.

This week, a parliament committee also heard reports of a possible plot to blow up Tel Aviv's tallest building, the Azrieli Towers, by sending a car packed with a ton of explosives into its underground parking garage.

Though many deaths had clearly been avoided this week, the string of incidents left Israelis entering the Sabbath tense and uneasy, with the foreboding that more attacks were on the way.

Security was unusually tight at the Mahane Yehuda market, the site of a number of previous bombings, where many poor or elderly Israelis come at the end of the day Friday for last-minute low prices on vegetables.

A Border Police Land Rover blocked the entrance, with one of the paramilitary police officers standing watch on its roof and others patrolling nearby. Special antiterrorist police officers stood watch at highway intersections leading into the city, scrutinizing traffic.

Even as the sun dimmed and West Jerusalem streets emptied, there were fresh reports of skirmishing at Tulkarm on the West Bank, where Palestinian gunmen from Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said they had ambushed Israeli troops.

One Israeli soldier was killed and three were wounded, along with eight Palestinian civilians.

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