`A horrific act of terror'

Hamas bomb in cafeteria at Hebrew University kills 7, wounds scores

3 Americans among the dead

Strike at Jerusalem haven is retaliation for Israeli assassination in Gaza

August 01, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A bomb exploded yesterday in a crowded cafeteria on the main campus of Hebrew University, killing seven people, including three Americans, and injuring more than 80 others, many of them foreign exchange students who had just registered for summer classes.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was a retaliation for Israel's assassination eight days earlier of one of its leaders in an airstrike in Gaza.

"It's a part of a series of responses that will take a long time and teach all Israelis," the group said in a statement faxed to a news agency. The statement urged militants to strike at American interests in the Middle East.

Israeli officials said their reaction would be harsh, and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer announced that the Cabinet had approved a military strike. The Israeli army already occupies most Palestinian cities in the West Bank, but soldiers had been told to ease curfew and checkpoint restrictions in recent days, orders that might now be rescinded.

At least four other Americans were injured by the 1:30 p.m. blast in the Frank Sinatra International Student Center, the U.S. Embassy and Israeli police said. The explosion blew out windows, overturned tables, left a gaping hole in a wall and collapsed part of the roof.

In Washington, the State Department reported the deaths of three Americans, two women and a man, but declined to identify the American victims further as consular officials worked to notify relatives.

One victim was identified by a family spokesman as Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, an assistant director of graduate studies based at Hebrew University's New York office. Coulter had been escorting American students to Israel.

Many victims had recently arrived in Israel and had just registered for classes at an office next door. The cafeteria was filled with teachers and new students getting acquainted as well as Israelis in the midst of final exams for the summer session at the campus on the edge of the Arab community of East Jerusalem.

Among the wounded were Arab-Israelis and people from France, Britain, Japan, Peru, South Korea and the United States, including a doctoral student from the University of Chicago.

At least 12 people were listed in critical condition, including two South Koreans and a Frenchman with a nail in his heart.

Daniel Fraham, 20, arrived in Israel a few days ago from Indiana and signed up for a year of political science studies. He bought a bottle of water at the cafeteria, chatted with Americans and left minutes before the blast. He raced back to search for friends.

"It was a nightmare," Fraham said. "I saw the body of a girl being covered. This is terrorism, not activism or politics, but terrorism. What else can it be? The people here didn't have anything to do with the conflict. They just wanted to learn."

The cafeteria was left in tatters, strewn with broken furniture, its walls and floor streaked with blood. While the windows were shattered, pictures remained hanging in place.

Eli Vaknin, 20, who emerged unhurt, said what affected him most was seeing the body of a young woman, "her beautiful eyes open to the sky."

In a room next to the cafeteria, copier machines were overturned and paper littered the floor. Many of the wounded ran into an awning-covered plaza named after Nancy Reagan and collapsed, leaving shoes and splotches of blood.

Israeli police closed all roads leading to the campus on Mount Scopus and detained dozens of Arab-Israelis and Palestinians as part of the search for the person who planted the bomb.

The Mount Scopus campus abuts the West Bank and adjoins several Palestinian neighborhoods. Police said they were investigating whether the bomber had infiltrated from the nearby Palestinian village of Issawiya, through the university's botanical gardens.

Fenced and guarded around its perimeter, the university monitors who enters the campus and searches every bag. But few buildings have guards of their own. The cafeteria was without guards, apparently because everyone walking onto the campus would already have been searched.

Yesterday's bombing represents a new tactic for Hamas, known for its suicide attacks, and a different kind of target. Police believe the bomb packed with nails was in a bag left on a table in the cafeteria. Hebrew University had been regarded as a haven, a rare place of coexistence, with 23,000 full-time students, including 5,000 Arab-Israelis.

The tree-lined campus was born out of conflict. It opened in 1925, and by 1947 had grown into a major research and teaching institution with a well-regarded hospital. Two days before Israel became a state, in 1948, Arabs attacked a convoy winding its way up Mount Scopus and killed 35 doctors and nurses.

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