Explosion In Tel Aviv; Police Say At Least 12 Killed
Mar. 04, 1996
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Muslim suicide bombers who have terrorized Israel struck again today outside Tel Aviv's biggest shopping center, killing at least 12 people and wounding 109. Victims included children dressed in costumes for a Jewish holiday.
Israel army radio said at least 18 people died in the attack outside the Dizengoff Center shopping mall, the fourth bombing in Israel in nine days. Forty-four innocents died in the three previous attacks, including 18 in a bus bombing in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The Muslim militant Hamas group claimed responsibility for today's attack, as it did for the other three. The bombing war, which has targeted the heart of Israel's two major cities, has traumatized the country and left peacemaking with the Palestinians in a shambles.
Tel Aviv Police Chief Gabi Last said the suicide bomber was on foot, crossing with shoppers at the busy intersection of King George and Dizengoff streets when he set off the bomb. Witnesses said the attacker struck next to a line of people waiting at a cash machine.
Witness Eli Shurany said he saw bodies flying through the air, among them a woman and a girl, about 10 years old, who were killed instantly. ``There was one girl with the bottom of her leg blown off,'' Shurany said.
Children in costumes for the Purim holiday, which began tonight, were among the casualties.
A woman said she was at the mall with three daughters in costume when the blast went off. ``The children were covered with glass,'' said the woman. One of her daughters was cut.
``All her back was full of glass fragments. She was bleeding. She has a hole in her back. It was horrifying,'' said the woman, who did not give her name.
Most of the wounded were taken to Ichilov Hospital, which treated four children. One was in serious condition, two were in stable condition, and one child was released.
An empty baby carriage stood several yards from where the bomb went off. A mother pulled her sobbing daughter away, tears streaking the Purim makeup on the girl's face.
Israelis, angry and frightened after the wave of bombings, shouted ``Death to Palestine'' and ``Death to the Arabs,'' as they tried to surge through police barriers around the bombing site. People jeered Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the principal architect of Israel's peace policies, when he appeared at the site.
Hamas claimed responsibility for today's bombing in a call to Israel radio. In a later call to the station, a man said the bombings were a joint operation between Hamas and the smaller sister group Islamic Jihad. The caller said the bomber was from Islamic Jihad, and that the attacks would continue.
Hamas has maintained its attacks were provoked by the Jan. 5 assassination of their chief bombmaker, an operation widely attributed to Israel.
The bombings threaten to paralyze Mideast peacemaking, and prompted Peres to declare war on Hamas and suspend peace talks with Syria.
Israel will not surrender to terrorists, Peres vowed. ``Even this time, with all the pain in my heart, we will come out of this stronger,'' he said grimly.
The prime minister, who sought a referendum on his peace policies when he called May 29 elections, has watched his comfortable lead in the polls evaporate because of the bombings.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was ready to cooperate fully with Israel in going after Palestinian militants, and said he hoped Israel wouldn't break off peace talks.
``I hope that we will not reward these terrorists,'' Arafat said in Gaza City.
Today's explosion occurred at the height of afternoon shopping, at 4:10 p.m.
Rescue workers lined up the dead at the curbside, covering them with brown and gray blankets. Some of the wounded were treated on the street amid the rubble of glass, torn paper and cardboard boxes.
Dazed survivors hurt by the explosion sat on the curb. clutching their heads. One man wiped blood off his face with a jacket. Policemen leaned over people lying on the ground, apparently unconscious.
Police said at least 12 people died today and 109 were wounded.
Cars, their hoods in the air, smoldered from the blast which scattered debris and glass on the street. A shoe lay in the road as emergency workers carried the dead, covered with gray blanket, away on stretchers.
``Please don't come in, move back, move back,'' police shouted through loudspeakers in an effort to keep the crowd back. Israel radio reported that among the dead was a Palestinian with a backpack.
In New York today, the U.N. Security Council condemned ``these vile acts'' and urged all parties to accelerate efforts to curb violence and combat the terrorism.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gad Yaacobi, said the feeling in Israel was that the peace process was on hold until ``the security of the people of Israel will be ensured.''
President Clinton deplored the violence and voiced the determination of the United States to help Israel ``stop the killings, to bring the killers to justice.''
``Once again the enemies of peace have murdered completely innocent Israeli citizens, including children, in their hysterical, determined, fanatic attempt to kill all hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and others in the Middle East,'' the president said.
Members of the Israeli Cabinet said Israel should no longer rely on Arafat to deal with the militants, but should send Israeli forces into PLO-controlled areas, if necessary.
Such strikes by Israeli troops would violate the Israel-PLO peace agreement, which gave Arafat control over the populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A caller to Israel radio's Arabic service claimed responsibility for today's bombing on behalf of Hamas and identified the assailant as Salah Abdel Rahim Yizhak, 24, of the PLO-ruled West Bank town of Ramallah.
The blast came as Tel Aviv prepared for Purim, the Jewish festival that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from a plot to slaughter them. The story of Purim is told in the biblical Book of Esther. Jewish children traditionally dress up in costumes for the holiday, which celebrates God's protection of the Jewish people.
The last previous attack in Tel Aviv took place July 24, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a bus, killing six Israelis.