Double Bombing Kills 18, Wounds Scores of Soldiers at Bus Stop
BEIT LID JUNCTION, Israel (AP) _ A suicide mission by Islamic militants near a snack bar mobbed with soldiers killed 18 Israelis and wounded about 60 Sunday with a gruesome new tactic _ igniting a small blast and ambushing would-be rescuers with a second major explosion.
The result was a hammer blow to the Israel-PLO peace treaty, already reeling from an unprecedented series of attacks inside Israel.
President Ezer Weizman proposed that Israel stop the peace talks for an extended review before expanding Palestinian self-rule into the West Bank. The president has little power but is looked to as an indicator of the national mood in times of crisis.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin convened an emergency Cabinet session Sunday evening to determine the government’s response.
The first step was a complete closure of the occupied territories, blocking the movement of all Palestinians into Israel. It has been the response after each similar attack and has kept tens of thousands of Palestinians away from jobs in Israel.
Rabin underscored the deepening concern about such carnage by making his first personal inspection tour of a suicide bombing site.
``There is no doubt in my mind that this action now is another attempt by the extreme Islamic terror groups to achieve their dual goal of killing Israelis and halting the peace process,″ he said.
Hecklers at the scene shouted, ``How much longer?″ while he toured the devastated site surrounded by jittery bodyguards. Smaller demonstrations were held at the site later in the night and outside government offices.
The radical Islamic Jihad organization issued leaflets in both Gaza and in Damascus, Syria, claiming responsibility for the double-barreled suicide mission.
The Gaza statement said the attack was to avenge the death of Hani Abed, a leader of the military wing whose death was blamed on Israel, and the killing of three Palestinian police shot by Israeli troops earlier this month.
The two suicide attackers were identified as Salah Shakr, 25, from Rafah and Anwar Sukar, 23, from Gaza City, whose father is a Palestinian traffic policemen.
Outside his house, Islamic activists chanted ``Death to America and Israel″ and said the bomber would be rewarded in paradise. Clearly distraught relatives cried, spat at the Islamic Jihad members and cursed them as ``dogs.″ One threw a flower pot that narrowly missed people in the crowd.
Sukar had been detained briefly by the Palestinian police after the Nov. 11 bicycle bombing by a Islamic Jihad suicide bomber who killed three Israeli officers.
Most of the 18 Israelis killed and 62 wounded in Sunday’s attack were soldiers, although the dead included at least one elderly civilian man.
The brunt of the explosion was taken by a single army company, one of a special unit deployed to guard bus stops, especially on Sundays when they are crowded with troops returning from weekend furloughs.
Kit bags, jackets and the red berets of the elite paratrooper unit, many of them bloodstained, lay scattered among the broken glass and other debris after the blast. Religious medical teams combed the ground and the trees for scattered bits of flesh, since Jewish law requires all body parts to be buried.
``There was a huge explosion. We came outside and saw everything was charred. As I moved toward the snack bar, I saw body parts, heads, arms, a God-awful scene,″ said eyewitness Haim Hershkovitz.
Bella Zioni, 42, who owns the snack shop, was inside with her husband and son and at first thought she had been knocked to the floor by an electric shock.
``By the time I was able to get up there was another explosion. Again, the entire roof collapsed and the solar panels fell on me,″ she said from her hospital bed.
The bombs exploded at the Beit Lid junction, also known as the Sharon junction, near the coastal town of Netanya about 9:30 a.m. Named after an Arab village that once stood there, it is 18 miles northeast of Tel Aviv and about six miles from the West Bank.
The blasts occurred across the street from Ashmoret Prison, where Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, has been serving a life sentence since 1989 for ordering the killing of Israeli informants and other activities against the occupation.
Officials said the two explosions were about three minutes apart.
Survivors reported a man wearing a uniform doubled over as if to throw up who they believe exploded the first bomb outside the snack bar. When soldiers rushed to see what happened, the second bomb erupted. The tactic was unseen in Israel before.
The bombs are believed constructed by a fugitive Palestinian chemist and Hamas member named Yehia Ayash, nicknamed ``The Engineer.″ He is believed to have built the bombs in a number of similar attacks, including one in Tel Aviv in October that killed 22 people.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s aides said he phoned Rabin to condemn the attack and express his condolences.
``Every time we make progress in the negotiations ... some people carry out criminal acts aimed at stopping this progress,″ Arafat was quoted as saying. King Hussein of Jordan and President Clinton also condemned the attack.