IDF: 30 people killed in Sinai attacks, most of them Israeli
28 bodies found at Taba Hilton, 2 Israelis killed in Ras Satan; IDF: May be survivors in ruins of hotel; security officials: Terror warning 'ignored.'
At least 30 people, many of them Israelis, were killed and 124 were wounded Thursday night in three attacks on two Red Sea holiday resorts packed with Israeli tourists.
The death toll, which the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command put Friday at 26, rose later in the day when the bodies of four people were pulled from the rubble of the Hilton Hotel in Taba, close to the Egypt-Israel border.
At least 28 people were killed in the blast at the hotel, while two Israelis died in two explosions at the town of Ras Satan, some 50 kilometers south of the frontier crossing.
So far, six of the fatalities in the two attacks have been positively identified as Israelis, among them two men, a woman and a child.
Four of the victims have been identified as Michal Alexander, 27, from Ganei Tikva; Hafez Hafi, 39, from Lod; Roy Avisaf, 28, from Kfar Sava and 10-year-old Khalil Zeitouna from Jaffa. Roy Avisaf was killed in the attack at Ras Satan.
Colonel Gideon Bar-On of the Home Front Command told reporters Friday afternoon that of the victims recovered since the blasts, five are believed to be non-Israelis.
Bar-On said that there are the bodies of a number of children among those killed in the Taba Hilton blast. The Magen David Adom rescue service said it had collected the bodies of the two Israelis killed in Ras Satan.
Bar-On also said that rescue personnel in Taba were still trying to locate people who were still alive but had been trapped in the ruins of the hotel.
According to the Home Front Command, there could be up to 20 people under the rubble.
Rescuers using everything from jackhammers and drills to dogs and bare hands searched the wreckage of the hotel after the explosion sheared outer rooms off a 10-story wing of the resort.
Blood stained floors, walls and even ceilings, and trees around the hotel were filled with the bodies of charred birds.
Channel 1 television said Friday that 15 of the bodies had been taken to Nueiba by Egyptian officials, and that Jerusalem had requested that they be transferred into Israel.
Later Friday, Israel and Egypt reached an agreement to send blood samples from the bodies of the victims for testing by forensics experts in Israel.
Of the wounded, 18 were still hospitalized in Be'er Sheva and Eilat by Friday afternoon, three in serious condition.
The chief of the Home Front Command, Yair Naveh, said that 38 Israelis were still unaccounted for as of Friday morning. But the Home Front Command believes that not all of the 38 were at the sites where the attacks occurred.
Terror warnings 'ignored' Security officials attending Friday's emergency cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, which was convened in the aftermath of the Sinai bombings, criticized the manner in which a terror warning issued several weeks ago regarding attacking at Red Sea resorts was ignored.
According to the officials, they had expected the public to take greater notice of the warning, and the travel advisory which followed it.
"The warning was highly specific," one security officials said, "and was widely reported in the media." The official went on to criticize the media was downplaying the warning.
Shin Bet security service director, Avi Dichter, leveled his criticism at the political echelons, saying that such a travel warning was not a strong enough reaction to a highly specific terrorist alert. Asked by Minister Zevulun Orlev why security forces had not closed down the border with Egypt after the alert was given, Dochter replied that the peace deal between Egypt and Israel prevented such a move.
At the meeting, Sharon told his ministers, "There will be will be no compromising with terror. It will be fought with every means possible without restraint."
Sharon also said in a statement that he had spoken to Mubarak after Thursday's bombings to thank him for Egypt's help in evacuating the dead and wounded.
Officials said intelligence chief Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash told cabinet ministers meeting about the explosions that the car bombings most likely were carried out by Al-Qaida.
Devastating attack The most devastating attack occured around 10 P.M. Thursday, when a blast ripped through the Hilton Hotel in the resort town of Taba, less than a kilometer from the Israeli border.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said at least five of the people killed in Taba appeared to be Israelis. The Israeli fire chief said three of the dead in Taba were Egyptians and one was a female tourist from Russia.
Following a briefing with Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed El Maghraby on Friday morning in Taba, Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Eli Shaked said most of the casualties are likely Egyptians and not Israelis.
Israeli security forces were unable to determine the exact number of deaths because Egyptian authorities were preventing them overnight from extricating corpses from beneath the rubble of the Taba Hilton, Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said.
Thousands of Israelis returned home from Sinai all night Thursday. At the time of the attacks, there were approximately 15,000 Israelis in Sinai, said the director of the Flying Carpet tourism company.
About two hours after the Taba blast, two other explosions occurred in the area of the nearby resort town of Ras Satan, a camping area full of Israeli tourists, witnesses said.
Two Israelis were killed in the blast at Ras Satan, the Magen David Adom rescue service said. Egyptian television said 43 people were wounded in the Ras Satan explosions, almost all of them tourists.
The previously unknown Jama'a Al-Islamiya Al-Alamiya (World Islamist Group) claimed responsibility for the Taba hotel blast, in a phone call to the AFP news agency. However, it was unclear whether the claim was authentic.
An Islamic internet site said four brothers carried out the Sinai attacks to avenge Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Army Radio reported.
Israeli security sources initially said they suspected the blasts had been caused by explosives-laden vehicles. A security official said the Taba blast may have been caused by a suicide bomber as well.
Naveh said later Friday morning, however, the Ras Satan attack was likely a suicide bombing and not a car bombing as was originally assumed, Army Radio reported.
Israeli rescue services were in Sinai evacuating the wounded and trying to extract people trapped below the rubble of the devastated hotel. Four hours after the blast, the Israel Defense Forces took command of the rescue operation at the scene, but there were delays in sending Israeli forces and rescue workers across the border. By dawn, officials said no wounded people appeared to be at the hotel.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had asked his Egyptian counterpart for permission to fly Israeli rescue workers into Sinai.
Egypt initially closed the border with Israel, preventing Israeli rescue personnel from crossing, but re-opened it a short time later, allowing Israeli rescue workers, including firefighters from nearby Eilat, to enter its territory.
After the Taba attack, Israel amassed a large number of rescue personnel on the Egyptian border, and Israel Air Force planes were scrambled as Israel waited for Egyptian permission to enter Sinai.
Shalom also asked the Egyptian foreign minister for permission to allow Israelis to pass through the border crossing without passport checks and to send between 20 and 30 buses to the Sinai to bring home the Israelis in the area, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir said.
Early Friday morning, three or four buses were evacuating Israelis from Ras Satan. Overnight, four planes and several buses brought Israelis home.
Israelis headed to Sinai over the Sukkot holiday, which ended Thursday night, despite a travel warning issued last month by the defense establishment cautioning Israelis against traveling to the area, following warnings of a possible terrorist attack.
In the wake of the explosions, the anti-terror unit in the Prime Minister's Office called on all Israelis to leave Sinai immediately and return to Israel, Army Radio reported.
Egypt upgraded a security alert at the airports in Cairo and in the southern tourist cities of Luxor, Hurghada and Aswan. Police were searching cars coming in and out of Luxor and Hurghada and there was a heavy police presence around hotels.
Palestinian Authority security adviser Jibril Rajoub, told Al-Jazeera television that no Palestinian factions were responsible for the explosions.
The explosion at the Hilton in Taba caused the ceiling of the lobby to collapse. The hotel was at full occupancy at the time of the explosion.
A fire then broke out at the hotel, and hotel guests on the upper floors were evacuated via the emergency exits. Later, 10 floors of the western wing of the hotel caved in as well.
An Israeli witness at the Hilton said that the hotel was on fire, and that dozens of bodies were lying on the floor. "There were dozens of bodies strewn everywhere, some of them children," said Rani, a paramedic with the private Ambulance A company in Eilat, standing at the entrance to the Hilton Hotel. "I personally saw about 30."
The blast could be heard about two kilometers from the hotel, said Selma Abu el-Dahab, who works at another Taba hotel.
In the Ras Satan area, two Israelis, a young man and a young woman, were found dead at the Small Ras Satan site, also known as Moon Island. Following two explosions at that site, electrical power went out and the area was plunged into darkness. Some 300 Israelis, some of them with head wounds and other injuries, were separated from other tourists by the Egyptian Army for their protection. The Israeli tourists at Moon Island did not know if Israeli authorities were aware of their situation.
Emergency numbers: Yoseftal Hospital: 12 55 175 Soroka Medical Center: 12 55 177 Eilat Missing Persons Hotline: 08-637-3078, 08-632-5852