Bomber Kills 11 on Israeli Bus

Palestinian wearing bomb belt blows himself up on rush hour city bus packed with high school students and soldiers

Thursday, November 21, 2002     FOX
JERUSALEM Eleven people were killed Thursday morning by a homicide bomber who blew himself up on a Jerusalem bus packed with students and Israeli soldiers. Dozens were hurt, and sandwiches and schoolbooks lay scattered in the street.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his security Cabinet for an emergency meeting later Thursday.

Reuters reported that Hezbollah television, broadcasting from southern Lebanon, said that the military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the blast.

"The person who carried out the Jerusalem martyrdom operation is Nael Azmi Abu al-Hal of the [Izz el-Deen] al-Qassam Brigades," al-Manar television said.  It gave no further details.

Israeli police gave a similar name for the bomber, identifying him as Nael Abu Hilail, 22, of Bethlehem.  Abu Hilail's family said he left home Wednesday.  His friends said he was a supporter of the Islamic Jihad group, not the rival Hamas.  Their was no word from Islamic Jihad.

Despite efforts by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the Egyptian government to halt attacks until Israel's Jan. 28 election, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have vowed to continue.

Ismail Abu Shanab, a leader of the Islamic militant Hamas group, said that "the Palestinian people are determined to continue the resistance until we liberate our land."

There have been scores of bombings and shootings of Israeli civilians since the current Palestinian uprising began in Sept. 2000, generally strengthening Israel's conservative parties.

President Bush condemned the bombing, but said it remained the United States' goal to see two independent states Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.

The assailant, wearing a bomb belt around his waist, set off the explosives in the middle of the bus at about 7:10 a.m. as it was stopped in Jerusalem's residential Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, police said.

Maor Kimche, 15, said he had just boarded the bus when the blast went off.

"Suddenly, it was black and smoky.  There were people on the floor.  Everything was bloody.  There was glass everywhere and body parts," Kimche said.

The 10th grader who had been en route to school in downtown Jerusalem jumped out of a bus window and was scooped up by a taxi driver who took him to nearby Hadassah Hospital. Kimche was lightly injured in the left leg.

The youngster said the bus was crowded with high school students, soldiers and elderly passengers.  He said he'd ride the bus again once he was well.

"How else will I get to school?" he asked.

The blast blew out the bus windows.  A torso that had fallen over the side of the bus was covered with a white-and-blue checkered blanket.  Sandwiches and schoolbooks lay scattered in the street.

As rescue workers removed the dead from the bus, the bodies were placed in black plastic bags that were numbered and laid out in a row along a sidewalk.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon, said the attack was proof that even efforts to bring about a limited truce and withdraw from some Palestinian areas appeared futile.

"All our efforts to hand over areas .... and all the talk about a possible cease-fire, that was all window dressing because on the ground there was a continuous effort to carry out as many terrorist activities" as possible, Gissin said.

Gissin accused the Palestinian Authority of assisting the attackers.

Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian labor minister, held Israel responsible, saying Sharon's strikes against militants provoked more Palestinian attacks.

"Sharon and his policies are responsible for the continuation of violence," he said.

The Israeli army has enforced stringent travel restrictions on Palestinians in the past 26 months of fighting, and has reoccupied most West Bank towns in an attempt to stop the attacks.

Israel's range of responses is restricted by the possibility of a U.S. strike against Iraq.  Several Israeli hardline leaders have called for Arafat's expulsion in retaliation for bombings, but such a step is sharply opposed by Washington, which is eager to maintain the support of moderate Arab governments.

In other developments, senior Palestinian officials welcomed a call by Israel's new opposition leader Amram Mitzna to restart peace talks, saying they believed they could reach a peace settlement with Israel if the dovish ex-general is elected prime minister.  But Arafat and some aides stopped short of a clear endorsement, apparently for fear of hurting Mitzna's chances in the upcoming elections.

Mitzna said he was encouraged by the response.

"If the biggest of our enemies is congratulating me on my election, perhaps that is a sign that in the future there will be someone with whom to talk and something to talk about," he told Israel Radio.

But Sharon's Likud Party is the heavy favorite in the Jan. 28 general election.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, violence continued.  Israeli tanks entered three villages in southern Gaza next to the border with Israel and searched houses early Thursday, residents said.  The military said only that an operation was in progress there.  No casualties were reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.