Watching her Gaza St. bus explode

Waiting at stop, girl sees 10 die on No. 19

Suicide bomb in Jerusalem

January 30, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Karen Feib, an eighth-grader, usually follows the same route to school every morning. First, she rides the No. 22 bus from her house to Gaza Street, just north of downtown, where she transfers to the No. 19. But passengers were jammed so tightly aboard the No. 22 yesterday that she couldn't step off when it reached her usual stop.

She stayed on until the next stop, and then waited for the No. 19 farther along its route. As the No. 19 slowed to pick her up, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up the bus, killing 10 passengers and wounding dozens more.

Had Karen changed buses at her usual stop, she would have been aboard the No. 19 when it was destroyed.

"It was a miracle," she said as she sat on the edge of a bed in the emergency room at Bikur Cholim Hospital.

She both saw and felt the blast that scattered body parts and debris, throwing some atop three-story buildings near the official residence of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The 14-year-old emerged physically unhurt but terribly frightened.

"I was trembling," she said. "Then I started crying."

The Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, a militant group affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political faction, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement broadcast on television in Lebanon.

Palestinian officials identified the attacker as Ali Yusuf Jaara, a 24-year-old Palestinian police officer from Bethlehem, which borders the southern edge of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is one of two major West Bank cities not occupied by Israeli troops and is under the full control of Palestinian police.

In an apparent response, about 20 Israeli military vehicles entered Bethlehem, early today in an operation that appeared limited to arresting suspects and possibly destroying the house where the bomber lived, in the Aida refugee camp next to Bethlehem, the Associated Press reported. Before dawn, Israeli forces instructed Palestinian security officers to abandon checkpoints outside Bethlehem, and troops moved into the town, residents said. Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, would say only that an operation was in progress. Security officials said earlier that Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met late yesterday to discuss retaliation options.

The blast occurred shortly before 9 a.m., near the end of the morning commute, and could be heard through downtown Jerusalem. Emergency vehicles jammed both lanes of Gaza Street, a block from a cafe where 13 people were killed in a suicide bombing in March 2002.

Yesterday's attack was the 29th suicide bombing in Jerusalem in three years, and the scenes and sounds were numbingly familiar. The bomb rumbles, then traffic comes to a standstill as ambulances and police rush to the scene. This time, the sirens wailed for more than 30 minutes.

"We are living the same story over and over again," said Yoni Yagadosky, an Israeli paramedic who has been to most of the bombings in Jerusalem, attacks that have killed 162 people and injured more than 1,100.

Yesterday's bomb went off a few hours before Israeli authorities began releasing hundreds of Palestinian detainees as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Television viewers saw grim pictures from the scene of the bombing that contrasted sharply with those of smiling former Arab prisoners waving victory signs and being welcomed into the embracing arms of their families.

As part of the deal, Israel freed 400 Palestinians and 29 Arabs from other countries and returned the bodies of 59 Lebanese killed by the Israeli army during its occupation of southern Lebanon. In exchange, Israel was given the bodies of three soldiers killed and held by Hezbollah for three years, and a kidnapped Israeli businessman who was alive.

"We are releasing Palestinians with a heavy heart," said Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry as he stood near the charred wreckage of the bus. "We know that they will very quickly return to the cycle of terrorism. But we have to bring our boys home, even if we have to pay a very high price."

In Lebanon, at a rally staged to welcome home the freed prisoners, Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said the group would kidnap more Israelis to use as bargaining chips to secure the release of other Lebanese prisoners.

Israeli army commanders convened in emergency session after the bombing to decide on a response. Because the bomber was associated with Arafat's Fatah faction, the Palestinian Authority that he leads will come under renewed pressure to disarm militant groups and collect illegal weapons, steps the authority has so far been unable or unwilling to take.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia condemned the bombing and for the first time indicated a willingness to meet with Sharon without advance guarantees of Israeli concessions. Qureia wants Israel to ease roadblocks and withdraw from West Bank cities; Sharon wants the Palestinians to carry out a security plan to thwart attacks.

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