Nine people, including four children, were killed and over 50 injured in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last night.
The bomber blew himself up in the ultra-Orthodox Beit Yisrael neighborhood shortly after 7 P.M., just as worshipers were pouring into the streets following sundown prayers marking the end of the Sabbath. When he exploded, he was standing right beside a group of women waiting with their baby carriages for their husbands to leave the nearby synagogue.
The dead included a one-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. Of the injured, five are in serious condition, four of whom are still fighting for their lives. The remainder were lightly or moderately wounded.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, took responsibility for the attack last night. The group identified the bomber as Mohammed al-Dararmeh, 19, of the Dehaishe refugee camp near Bethlehem, and said the attack was to avenge "the continued Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people," of which the most recent were the operations in the Nablus and Jenin refugee camps.
Upon hearing the news, hundreds of Palestinians staged an impromptu celebration, chanting, "revenge, revenge," and firing guns into the air at the entrance to Dehaishe; hundreds more took to the streets of Ramallah for their own celebration.
The PA cabinet condemned the attack, but said that Israel was to blame for the escalation of the violence.
But Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of the Fatah movement in the West Bank, pledged that his organization would spill much more Israeli blood in the coming weeks. "The resistance forces will continue to strike at the Zionist enemy," he said in an interview with Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station in Lebanon. "And I am certain that the force of these strikes will even increase."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon telephoned Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to discuss Israel's response to the attack. Government sources said that Israel holds Arafat personally responsible, as the Al-Aqsa Brigades are directly subordinate to him.
The thunderous blast shook downtown Jerusalem and sent flames leaping from a car that caught fire. Blood covered a stone wall at the nearby Mahane Israel seminary, where up to 1,000 Jews gather every Saturday evening.
"I heard an explosion, and I went down and saw a baby carriage with a dead baby beside it and other dead people," said Shlomi, who was in Mahane Israel when the bomb exploded.
"We arrived at the site and saw scenes of horror: young children, old people, women, lying in the road without hands, without legs, blood everywhere and enormous destruction all about," said Eitan, a volunteer with Magen David Adom who helped evacuate the wounded. "Only some had the strength to scream or cry. The quiet was the thing I remember most... This was one of the worst attacks I can remember."
Another witness who had been staying at the Mahane Israel guesthouse said she and everyone else in her family had been lightly hurt when the bomber blew himself up. "I was speaking with everyone and when I turned around I saw people flying in the air. My brother fell onto me. I didn't know if my brother was wounded or the blood of other wounded people was on him," she said. "All I felt was pain."
In addition to the dead and wounded, two unhurt babies were accidentally brought to Bikur Holim Hospital without their parents. For hours, hospital staff tried to locate the families, and finally discovered that the parents of one, a baby boy, had been injured and were in another hospital, Shaare Zedek. Other relatives were summoned to take him home. Later, the second baby's mother was located. She had also been in Shaare Zedek, accompanying her wounded son.
The explosion was a particularly tragic conclusion to what should have been a joyous occasion for the Hazan family of Moshav Bnei Ayish near Ashdod. The family had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their son Naveh at Mahane Israel, and the bomber blew himself up outside the building just as the family and guests were leaving. Several family members and friends were wounded.
"This is an event I had been looking forward to so much," said Aviva Nahmani, Naveh's mother. "Everything was so beautiful. But I didn't expect it to end like this."
The tragedy was even worse for the Hajaby family, which was also celebrating their son's bar mitzvah at Mahane Israel: Some of the dead were members of this family.
Yesterday's bombing occurred only meters from where a car bomb miraculously exploded a year ago without causing any injuries. On a nearby wall, local residents' reaction to that event was still visible: a large sign that read "a great miracle happened here."
The United States issued a sharp denunciation of the attack last night.
"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this terrorist outrage," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "Such murder of innocent citizens cannot be justified and can only harm the interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people in progress toward a better future ... We call upon Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to do everything possible to confront and stop the terrorists responsible for these criminal acts."
Interior Minister and Shas leader Eli Yishai said that Israel must respond harshly to the attack, using measures it has not used in the past.
Police initially thought the bomber had infiltrated the neighborhood by dressing in traditional Haredi garb - a suspicion strengthened by the fact that two neighborhood residents had earlier alerted them to a suspicious character who, they said, looked like an Arab despite his Haredi dress and was seen getting out of a car and lighting a cigarette, both of which are forbidden on Shabbat by Jewish law. However, police said this theory later proved false, and denied residents' charges that they had ignored the earlier alert.
Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy said the police had received no intelligence warnings of a bomber planning to blow himself up in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood. Nevertheless, police had been patrolling throughout the area all day, and had stopped several suspects.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now