Suicide bomber badly wounds 2 at Israeli bus station

Authorities say driver and 2 security guards prevented deadlier attack

August 29, 2005|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday near the central bus station in Beersheba in southern Israel, seriously wounding two security guards who tried to stop him. It was the first such attack since Israel began a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this month.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing. The militant group had vowed revenge after Israeli undercover troops killed five Palestinians, one an Islamic Jihad leader, in the West Bank town of Tulkarem last week.

Violence by Palestinian militants had dropped sharply during the Israeli withdrawal, as Palestinian factions heeded calls by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, to allow the Israelis to leave without interruption.

Last week, Israel completed the evacuation of all 21 of its settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank without major incident. A military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is expected to be completed by late September, ending 38 years of occupation.

The bombing in Beersheba came during morning rush hour. The bomber detonated his explosives in a dirt parking lot near the station as two security guards approached, police said.

Eli Horesh, a bus driver, said he had spotted the Palestinian and called the security men stationed at the bus terminal.

"I was ... picking up passengers when the terrorist arrived and asked if I reach the hospital. I told him that I didn't and directed him to the stop for bus No. 12," Horesh told Israel Radio. "I was suspicious of the person. He had a heavily loaded backpack and a plastic bag in his hand.

"I saw a security guard and told him, `Do me a favor, check that person. He looks suspicious to me.' ... Then there was a powerful explosion."

The two guards were reportedly in serious condition with burns and shrapnel wounds. More than 50 other people were treated at Soroka Hospital for shock and emotional distress, said Dr. Eitan Hay-Am, the hospital director.

Uri Bar-Lev, chief of the southern district police, said the driver and guards had prevented a major attack.

The bomber was identified by Islamic Jihad as Ayman Zaakik, 25, of Beit Umar, a village near Hebron in the West Bank. However, relatives and Israeli officials said Zaakik has been in custody since being arrested days ago.

The bomber appeared to have come from the southern West Bank, where Israel is building a barrier to block such attackers. Construction of the southern section was speeded up after two suicide bombers from Hebron struck in Beersheba a year ago, killing 16.

The barrier has sharply reduced attacks in areas of the northern West Bank. But Palestinians say the complex of fences and walls, which slices into the West Bank and loops around Israeli settlements, is an attempt to carve off land they want as part of a future state.

Abbas denounced the bombing, calling it a "terrorist operation."

"We condemn such attacks," he said. "We don't accept them, and we call on everyone to show restraint so that the peace process can succeed."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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