Reem Salah Riashi yesterday became the first female Hamas member to carry out a suicide attack when she detonated a bomb at the Erez checkpoint, killing four Israelis and wounding nine.
The fatalities were identified as Border Police Staff Sergeant Vladimir Trostinsky, 22, of Rehovot; Israel Defense Forces Staff Sergeant Tzur Or, 20, of Rishon Letzion; IDF Corporal Andrei Kegeles, 19, of Nahariya; and security guard Gal Shapira, 28, from Ashkelon.
The attack was meticulously planned. Palestinian sources said that Riashi, a 22-year-old mother of two, had undergone an intensive period of training after being recruited at the mosque where she prayed. When she arrived at the crossing yesterday, she had detailed intelligence regarding the inspection procedure, and took full advantage of the weak spots that planners of the attack had identified. She played her role, designed to mislead the security guards, to perfection.
Witnesses who were in the terminal at the time of the attack say that Riashi was the very picture of wretchedness. She arrived at the crossing at around 9:30 A.M., some 90 minutes after 4,000 workers employed in the Erez industrial zone had passed through, choosing a day that many women come to the Erez checkpoint to request work permits in Israel. She passed unhindered through the Palestinian checkpoints at the south of the terminal, telling the police officer on duty that she was sick.
From there, she progressed, with four other Palestinian women who were totally unaware of her plans, via the "security sleeve," toward the Israel section of the terminal.
The building has been reconstructed several times in recent years, and, in the aftermath of shooting attack two years ago, security procedures have also been refreshed. Now, Palestinians have to go through a rotating metal device, and then pass through a metal detector. The Israeli guards - IDF soldiers, Border Police and security guards from private companies - watch them from behind reinforced windows. Only people who have passed through the metal detectors are allowed to progress into the terminal itself.
When Riashi passed through the detectors and set them off, she told security guard Gal Shapira, who was stationed at the entrance to the terminal, that she had metal pins in her leg. She even lifted her dress slightly to show the guard a bandage. Shapira told her to pass through the detector again, and again the alarm sounded.
The bomber then began to cry, lying on the floor and begging to be let through. The other women also asked the guards to let her through. Shapira called his superior, who told Riashi to move into the terminal. In the meantime, a female guard was called to conduct a physical examination. Security procedures dictate that when necessary, women be examined in a side room and by a female guard.
When the female guard turned away to find gloves for the examination, the bomber advanced some four meters into the terminal. When she was in the midst of a group of guards, she detonated the explosive belt she was wearing around her waist.
The device, which contained around five kilograms of explosives, killed four people, wounded nine others. The injured were evacuated to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, where doctors said that two remain in moderate condition. Among the injured were the female guard and a Palestinian woman who was applying for a work permit. The damage to the small building was severe.
The commander of the Northern Gaza division, Colonel Yoel Strik, was in his office at the time of the blast, around one kilometer away. Strik was in the middle of a conversation with Channel 2's military correspondent, Roni Daniel. Moments before the explosion, Strik was speaking about the Erez crossing. Every few months, there's an attack at the Erez crossing, he was saying, and they are always large-scale. The conversation was cut short by the blast.
The initial report was that a mortar had landed nearby, but Strik heard the explosion and recognized it immediately as a bomb. When he arrived on the scene a few minutes later, he was proven right. Daniel's cameraman documented how the officers tried to restore order and others drew up lists of the dead and injured. There is no hysteria evident in the pictures, just businesslike activity.
At the same time, troops were closing down the Erez industrial zone. Within a few hours, the Palestinians employed there were told by loudspeaker to leave their places of work. They were rounded up outside the factories, underwent security checks and were sent home to the Gaza Strip.
Despite the bombing, the Erez crossing will not be closed this morning. Some 15,000 workers and traders from Gaza will pass through the site on their way to work inside Israel. Only the industrial zone will remain closed, until a solution can be found for the ruined terminal.
"The days when Gaza was sealed off because of a terror attack in Afula are long gone," a senior officer from the Southern Command told Haaretz yesterday. Despite the dangers involved, the IDF is keen to get back to normal as soon as possible.