Bomber, two police officers die in Jerusalem explosion

Palestinian woman sets off blast when stopped for questioning, officials say

September 23, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up yesterday in Jerusalem, killing herself and two Israeli police officers who had stopped to question her.

Authorities credited the officers with saving the lives of dozens of people at the French Hill Junction, a major transit point in the city. They had stopped the bomber before she reached a crowded bus stop.

An intensive care nurse at Hadassah Hospital who stood about 20 yards from the explosion described the attacker as a young woman wearing a headscarf, her face partially covered with a veil.

Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said one of the police officers demanded that the woman open up a bag she was carrying. He said the woman refused and detonated a shrapnel-filled bomb that was in the bag.

At least 17 people, including a 9-year-old boy, were injured. The blast destroyed a small police post and littered the street with blood and body parts.

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement issued from the West Bank city of Jenin that it was in retaliation for a arrests and killings by the Israeli army during raids over the past month. The Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat, condemned the bombing.

It was the first suicide bombing in Jerusalem since February, when eight people were killed aboard a bus. The last attack in Israel occurred last month when a pair of bombers blew up two buses in the southern city of Beersheba, killing 16 people.

Palestinian media identified the bomber as Zayneb Abu Salem, 19, from Askar refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus.

She is one of at least eight women to blow themselves up in recent years, a tactic that Israeli officials say is used because women can more easily pass army checkpoints. Last week, two women from Nablus on their way to commit a bombing surrendered to Israeli soldiers.

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the armed wing of Arafat's Fatah Party. Its commander in Jenin is Zakariyya Zubaydi, a flamboyant gunman whose supporters are the de facto rulers of the city.

Two armed Palestinians infiltrated an Israeli army outpost in a Gaza Strip settlement early today, killing at least three Israelis in a fierce gun battle before being shot dead, Israeli media reported.

Two other Israelis were wounded, one critically, the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported. The army refused to confirm the report of deaths.

The army said soldiers were searching for a third militant who might have fled the area, but were not certain that there were ever more than three Palestinians involved in the attack.

A caller to the Associated Press in Gaza City said the operation was a joint effort of the Islamic Jihad; the Popular Resistance Committee, an umbrella group of Palestinian factions; and the Ahmed Abu El-Rish Brigades, a group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction. The caller said the groups had sent three militants into the Morag settlement and the "operation is still under way." He said a statement would be released.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to continue military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "In many cases, we prevent heavy disasters," Sharon said on Israeli television during a live interview that coincided with the attack. "Sometimes things happen like what happened today. But we intend to continue our struggle against terror with all force."

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who visited the scene, said the bombing "is another reminder that we must finish the fence" - a reference to the fencing and walls that Israel is building in the West Bank to prevent easy entry to Israel.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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