7 Die in Suicide Bomb Attack in Wadi Ara

A Palestinian terrorist from Jenin blew himself up at 7 A.M. yesterday on Egged Bus 823, traveling from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, killing four soldiers, three civilians and himself.

A Palestinian terrorist from Jenin blew himself up at 7 A.M. yesterday on Egged Bus 823, traveling from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, killing four soldiers, three civilians and himself.

The terrorist, Ra'afat Tahsin Salim Diab, 20, from Jenin, set off his bomb as the bus traveled near the Musmus village, in Wadi Ara, one kilometer east of the Umm al-Fahm junction. Israeli security officials believe that the terrorist boarded the bus at the Umm al-Fahm junction, sat down in the middle of the vehicle, and detonated the bomb when passengers began to suspect his intentions.

The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. In a circular distributed yesterday in the Jenin area, Islamic Jihad described the attack as "one link in a chain of strikes of rage" carried out in reprisal for recent IDF actions in refugee camps.

Abdallah a-Shami, an Islamic Jihad spokesman from the Gaza Strip, called the attack a response to "Ariel Sharon's continuing aggression and massacres."

PA condemns attack

A Palestinian Authority spokesman denounced the Bus 823 attack. PA officials stated in a series of media interviews that such attacks harm Palestinian national interests because they furnish "extremist Israelis with a way to cover up their attacks against the Palestinian people." Officials also noted that the PA's efforts to bring an end to the IDF siege on Palestinian villages requires all Palestinians to "refrain from military acts against civilians in Israel." The PA leadership suggested that such attacks are liable to delay the implementation of a cease-fire agreement and of the Tenet and Mitchell plans.

Police Northern District Commander Yaakov Borovsky told reporters yesterday that the bomber had a large explosive device attached to his belt.

Testimony given yesterday by the bus driver and passengers established that the terrorist detonated his bomb knowing that Arab passengers would also become victims. Two or three Israeli Arabs boarded the bus with the attacker at the Umm al-Fahm junction, as did an elderly Palestinian from the territories, witnesses said.

The bus driver, Yossi Ben Yosef, 57, an Egged driver for 30 years, said that the terrorist did not look suspicious. "He was about 30, dark and bearded," Ben Yosef recalled. "He had on a black coat, and didn't have a bag. The coat didn't look puffed up, and he had his hands in his pockets." The driver added: "He said only one thing, `Afula,' and gave me NIS 12. He knew exactly how much the fare to Afula cost."

The four IDF soldiers killed in the attack were Non-Commissioned Officer Meir Fahima, 40, from Hadera; Staff Sergeant Shimon Edrei, 20, from Pardes Hannah; Sergeant Michael Altfiro, 19, also from Pardes Hannah; and Corporal Aharon Revivo, 19, from Afula. Two of the civilians were Alon Goldenberg, 27, from Tel Aviv, and Maharto Mogus, 75.

Another victim who had been sitting close to the attacker was so severly disfigured and injured that absolute identification yesterday proved impossible, but authorities expected her identity would be established by this morning. This would follow a test at Abu Kabir Forensic Medicine Institute, which takes 12 hours, checking genetic data of putative family members.

Twenty-nine victims of yesterday's attack were brought to hospitals for treatment, with 22 victims being taken to Haemek Hospital in Afula and seven going to Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera. As of last night, 18 of the victims remained hospitalized, with two of them listed in serious condition.

One eyewitness of yesterday's attack, Dr. Doron Kopelman, the head of the surgical department at Haemek Hospital in Afula, has treated dozens of terror attack victims in past years. Yesterday morning he reported that none of his past experience prepared him for what he witnessed, sitting in his car some 50 meters from the bus at the time of the explosion. "Suddenly there was a flash in front of my eyes," he said. "All the years during which I've taken care of injured victims in emergency rooms and in surgery didn't help with this. The images and the smell and the screams and the smoke: this is something else entirely."

Yesterday's attack was the third perpetrated during the past year against Egged's 823 bus line.

According to a Palestinian source, the dead terrorist worked in clothes sales, had been religious for many years and was thought to be a member of Hamas.