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Suicide Bombing Kills 9 in Israel

April 10, 2002

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HAIFA, Israel (AP) _ After a few days’ home leave, Gal Marom had just started the trip back to his reserve unit in the West Bank when a suicide bombing threw him from his seat on bus No. 960.

``I came through a month and a half of fighting in Ramallah unscathed and then this happened,″ the 20-year-old tank driver said quietly at a Haifa hospital where cuts on his chest were treated. ``I never thought this would happen to me so close to home.″

Eight Israeli passengers and the bomber were killed in Wednesday’s blast in northern Israel. Among the dead were four soldiers and Noa Shlomo, a niece of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. Fourteen people were wounded.

The Islamic militant Hamas group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying on one of its Web sites that the bombing proved the failure of Israel’s military offensive aimed at crushing Palestinian militias behind attacks on Israeli civilians. It was the fourth suicide bombing since the offensive began with the March 29 invasion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Yaakov Borovsky, a police chief in northern Israel, said the suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt shortly after boarding the bus. The explosion went off near Kibbutz Yagur, a communal farm just east of Haifa and about 15 miles from the West Bank.

The 7:15 a.m. blast punched a large hole through the roof of the front of the bus, and the vehicle was thrown a few yards into the air before coming to a stop on the divided six-lane highway, its wheels knocked off and windows blown out.

``There was a huge bang. I saw the man exploding near the front″ of the bus, said Marom, who lives in the small northern town of Kiryat Bialik. ``I went flying and landed on the steps of the back door. I staggered out and managed to walk a couple of steps. I even phoned my father so that he wouldn’t worry _ he knew I was on the bus.″

Rescue workers covered bodies with sheets and blankets. Personal belongings were strewn across the asphalt, including an olive military jacket, a backpack, a skullcap and identity papers.

Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said the bomb attack was a ``clear message that our people will not surrender and will not give up.″

Sources in Hamas identified the bomber as Ayman Abu Haija, 22, from the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The camp, scene of the deadliest fighting during the Israeli offensive, has been under Israeli siege for a week. It was not clear when Abu Haija left Jenin.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, asked about the Haifa bombing, said he was more concerned about violence in the Jenin camp.

Arieh Mekel, an Israeli government spokesman, called the bombing a sign the Palestinians were intent on disrupting a peace mission by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Israeli Health Minister Nissim Dahan, who was visiting a Haifa hospital, angrily criticized U.S. demands to immediately end the military operation.

``I very much hope that this military operation will continue until the very last terrorist is killed or captured,″ said Dahan, of the religious Shas Party. ``If there are more victims like these, the United States government, President Bush and also Colin Powell _ who want us to stop the operation _ will be held responsible.″

Amnon Naor, who was driving in the opposite direction when the bus blast went off, said he saw people lying dead and wounded after the explosion, with body parts strewn 40 yards in all directions.

``If this can happen when our soldiers are in the Palestinian towns, what’s going to happen when they pull out?″ he asked. ``There’s no way of stopping them (militants). I don’t see any solution on the horizon, so of course I’m angry.″

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