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Haifa Bombing Kills Kids, Military Legend

October 6, 2003

KIBBUTZ YAGUR, Israel (AP) _ Residents of this communal farm had the first inkling of disaster when they saw a stroller and a child’s cup with the name Liran printed on it in shaky TV footage of a suicide bombing.

Soon after the first broadcasts, their fears were confirmed: Liran, 4, his baby sister, parents and grandmother, all residents of the kibbutz, were killed _ along with 14 others _ in Saturday’s blast in a Haifa restaurant.

``I saw the stroller and the bottle and I knew it was them,″ recalled neighbor Benny Shiloh.

Liran Zer-Aviv was to have celebrated his fourth birthday with classmates at nursery school on Sunday.

At lunchtime a day earlier, a 27-year-old Palestinian woman detonated explosives in the Maxim restaurant on a sliver of Mediterranean beach.

Liran and his family were eating lunch when the blast sent pieces of the ceiling crashing down and bits of window glass flying. Also killed were Liran’s 1-year-old sister Noya, his parents, B’tzalel and Keren, and his grandmother, Bruriya, 54.

Bruriya, together with her husband, Freddy, had come to Kibbutz Yagur from Haifa 18 years ago, looking for the quiet life afforded by the small agricultural community.

Kibbutz members of all generations, from kindergarten kids to Bruriya’s friends, struggled to deal with the tragedy. ``If one person is killed you have the accepted norms of what to do, `` said Shlomit Atzmon, 55, a neighbor of Bruriya and a colleague of Keren. ``When an entire family is killed ... you mourn for all five, you feel all five of them in your heart and you have five times as much fear,″ Atzmon said.

Maxim restaurant was a rare oasis of Jewish-Arab coexistence. For four decades the business has been owned by two families _ one Arab, one Jewish. Both Jews and Arabs were struck down in the attack.

In Haifa’s predominantly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, hundreds of residents packed into a Catholic Church as the community came to bury two of their sons.

Family members gathered around two plain wooden coffins holding the bodies of Osama Najar, 28, and Mutanis Kerkabi, 32, as Bishop Gregorius Hadad, clad in long black robes and clutching a large red cross intoned the prayers.

``This attack did not differentiate between Jews or Arabs, the young or old, the rich or poor,″ Hadad said, addressing the mourners above the wails of the women and the chiming of small bells.

Both Najar and Kerkabi were working at the restaurant when the bomber struck.

Najar, the cook, had loved his workplace for being a symbol of coexistence between Jews and Arabs. ``He loved the place, there had always been love between Jews and Arabs,″ said Jamal Khouri, a friend, who used to play poker with Najar.

Other mourners talked of the despair of the parents who had to bury their children. ``Last night I saw Mutanis’s mother and she was just dying; she said her heart and soul had been taken from here,″ said William Mansour, one of the worshippers.

Also among the dead was Zeev Almog, 71, a legendary former commander of the navy’s officers’ school in Haifa. His wife, Ruti, 70, his son Moshe, 43, and his grandson Tomer, 9, all died with him at the family lunch. His daughter Galit, daughter-in-law Orli and three other grandchildren were wounded.

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