Palestinian mother kills 4 Israelis in suicide attack

Woman detonates bomb at Gaza border crossing

January 15, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEL AVIV, Israel - A young Palestinian mother of two blew herself up yesterday at the main crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel for Palestinian workers, killing herself and four Israelis.

The bomber detonated the explosives at the Erez Crossing, where about 4,000 Palestinian workers a day pass through security checks to enter an industrial zone run by Israeli companies. Because of a recent lull in attacks, Israeli officials had been allowing more Palestinians to take jobs there and were easing restrictions for Gazans seeking work elsewhere in Israel.

Reem Raiyshi, 21, mother of a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, was the seventh female suicide bomber in three years but the first to carry out an attack for Hamas. Leaders of the Islamic militant group in Gaza said she was chosen in order to circumvent the tight security that usually focuses on young Palestinian men. A second group, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, also claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a videotape released later, a smiling Raiyshi said that she had long wanted "the honor" of being a suicide bomber. "It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists," she said.

The attack was the first successful suicide bombing since Dec. 25. The corrugated steel walls of a small inspection station were blown apart, the metal sheets punctured by nails packed around the bomb. At least six people were wounded.

"We see here the exploitation of our good will to help the Palestinian population," said Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza. With Gaza's unemployment rate estimated to be at least 50 percent, the industrial zone is one of the few sources of steady jobs.

"This causes real damage to all the workers, not just Israeli businesses here," said Ashur Solha, 40, a Palestinian from the Jabaliya refugee camp who supports a wife and eight children on the $20 a day he earns working in a sewing shop.

Israeli authorities immediately closed the industrial zone and, after requiring each worker to lift his shirt to show that he had no weapons, sent the thousands of workers home.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the bombing "shows that the terrorism is more self-destructive to them than to us. The Palestinians shouldn't blame us for creating the intolerable conditions that they live in."

A U.S. official who met with reporters yesterday said the attack was aimed at undermining the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders are pressing Israel to ease restrictions. The authority gains strength when its people have jobs and can provide for their families, the official said, while groups such as Hamas thrive amid instability.

"It is very distressing that Erez was chosen as a target," the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's an extraordinary statement of Palestinian intentions to kill a couple of Israelis in order to go after their own people."

The U.S. official said the United States is trying to restart its peace initiative by urging Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to meet. Qureia, who took office in October, has opposed meeting with Sharon unless Israel could assure him of tangible gains, to show Palestinians the worth of negotiations.

Under the U.S.-backed peace plan, Israel would have to dismantle illegal settlements in the West Bank, and Palestinians would be required to disarm militant groups and enforce an end to attacks on Israel.

Israeli authorities at the Erez checkpoint had recently begun issuing magnetic identification cards to Palestinians cleared to enter Israel, to make their crossing easier. Raiyishi, the bomber, was in a line of people waiting for the new cards.

Raiyshi told soldiers there that she had had a recent operation, and that a metal plate in her leg would set off the alarm of a metal detector at a doorway, officials said.

Soldiers escorted her to another part of the room for a search by a female soldier. Within seconds, Raiyshi detonated the explosives packed into a belt hidden beneath her clothes.

Hamas said the attack was carried out in retaliation for continuing Israeli military operations that have killed or wounded dozens of Palestinians in recent weeks.

The bomber's neighbors in Gaza City said her husband and two children moved to another house after the attack.

Last night, Israeli paramedics handed over three small bags containing Raiyshi's remains to Palestinian counterparts.

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