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Israel Jolted By String of Sunday Terror Attacks

Monday, September 10, 2001 | Tag Cloud

ICEJ NEWS - 09/10/2001
It was a brutal start to the Israeli work week, as two suicide bombings and a drive-by shooting left 5 Israelis dead and 110 injured on Sunday. The spate of attacks hit the nation hard, as one of the suicide bombers is believed to be the first recruited from the Israeli Arab community, while pressure is growing to cancel a pending meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO chief Yasser Arafat this week.

The pair of suicide bombers struck the crowded train station in the northern coastal town of Nahariya and the busy Beit Lid junction between Netanya and Tulkarm, following a fatal early-morning ambush near the Adam bridge crossing in the Jordan Valley.

The day of carnage began around 8:15 AM, when a van filled with five Israeli school teachers commuting to classes was overtaken by Palestinian gunmen in a vehicle south of the Adam junction, near Beit She'an. The Palestinians riddled the minibus with bullets, instantly killing the driver, Yaaov Hatsav, 41, and one passenger, Sima Franco, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher. The three remaining passengers suffered light-to-moderate injures. The terrorists fled towards Nablus. Islamic Jihad later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Then at 10:40 in the morning, a suicide bomber killed himself and three Israelis outside the Nahariya railway station, also wounding 94 others - with most suffering from shock. A crowded train was just arriving from Tel Aviv, with many soldiers returning for their weekly duties in the North, when an alert police officer grew suspicious of a man with a large knapsack on the street nearby and stopped him for questioning. The man instead raced toward the platform just as the passengers disembarked. Before the officer could draw his weapon, a powerful blast sent bodies flying over 20 meters.

The bomber has been tentatively identified as Mahmoud Shaker Habishi, 48, of the western Galilee village of Abu Sna'an, although a final confirmation is awaiting DNA tests. This would mark the first time an Israeli Arab has carried out a suicide bombing.

His three deceased victims included IDF Sgt. Daniel Yifrah, 19, Yigal Goldstein, 47, and Morel Derfel, all residents of the Jerusalem area. Among the wounded were a one-week-old baby and several residents of Habishi's village, which is mainly Druze but includes some Muslim families. Seventeen remained hospitalized on Monday, none in life-threatening condition.

Hashibi was a prominent member of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and was married to two women and the father of a number of children. He was being hotly pursued by Israeli security over the past ten days after concrete intelligence indicated he was being dispatched by Hamas to carry out a suicide attack inside Israel. Frustrated Israeli officials stressed yesterday that they had repeatedly passed on details of his plans to the Palestinian Authority, including the fact he was hiding out in a village near Jenin, but the PA ignored their requests to arrest him.

One of Hashibi's sons was detained for questioning on Monday. Israel also has recently taken into custody several Israeli Arab youths recruited by Hamas operatives in Jenin to plant bombs inside Israel.

This marked the second suicide bombing and third bombing attack on Israeli passenger trains during the intifada. A suicide bomber killed two IDF soldiers and wounded 14 others at the bustling Binyamina train station on July 16, and an explosion nearly derailed a train in the same area on May 16.

The third major terrorist strike yesterday occurred at 1:15 PM, when a suicide bomber exploded two bombs in his car as he waited for a traffic light to change at the Beit Lid junction, near Netanya. His car snapped in two from the force of the blast, which wounded 13 Israelis, most of them motorists stopped near the bomber's car. The explosion set fire to an empty bus and five other vehicles. Several unexploded bombs and mortar shells were found at the site and safely defused.

Israeli authorities believe the suicide bomber had planned the attack further along the highway near an IDF hitchhiking station or in Netanya, but detonated his bombs prematurely after spotting the flashing lights of a prisons service van behind his car and also noticed a bus beside him. The bus was empty of passengers, however, sparing Israel another major disaster.

The location of the attack was the scene of a horrific double suicide bombing by Islamic Jihad in 1995 that killed 20 Israelis, mostly IDF soldiers, and wounded dozens of others.

As the casualty toll rose yesterday, Israel accused Arafat of instigating the attacks at a time when preparations are under way to organize a meeting between him and Peres. It was announced today that the Peres-Arafat meeting would likely take place on Tuesday at the Erez checkpoint going into Gaza, but both Peres and Arafat later denied that a time and venue had been agreed upon. Many Israelis are expressing renewed opposition to holding talks with the Palestinian leader during such an upsurge in attacks.

Israeli forces retaliated yesterday with IAF Apache helicopters strikes targeting several Palestinian security installations and Fatah Tanzim headquarters in Judea/Samaria. Palestinians evacuated all security installations and other institutions affiliated with Fatah and the PA, fearing harsh reprisals.

The helicopter raids first struck at a Fatah headquarters and a Force 17 post in El-Bireh, causing heavy damage. Later in the afternoon, helicopters hit the Fatah office in Ramallah and a PA police position south of Jenin.

Other gun-ships were dispatched to Jericho, where they fired rockets into a storeroom belonging to PA General Intelligence, setting it alight. IDF tanks also fired at a Palestinian roadblock near an Arab village east of Nablus. Five Palestinians were reported lightly wounded by shrapnel in the Jericho attack, but there were no reported casualties in the other strikes, because most of the buildings were evacuated. "The targets hit were continually used to plan and carry out violent terror attacks," an IDF statement said.

On Monday morning, yet another retaliatory strike at a PA police checkpoint near the village of Tamun left one PA security officer dead. The IDF fired anti-tank missiles at the checkpoint, killing 30 year-old officer Fahed Abu Muhammed Abu Siam, and wounding nine others, two seriously, Palestinian police and hospital officials said.

Meanwhile, IDF security forces closed Palestinian access to the main Jordan Valley road this morning in response to the shooting attack there yesterday. According to new regulations, all Palestinian travel on the road will be prohibited, save for emergencies, which will only be allowed to pass with convoys.

And in other intifada-related incidents, Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian gunman and wounded his colleague during an attempt to slip into Israel, Palestinian sources said. Israeli soldiers spotted three Palestinians along the border fence near the Nahal Oz checkpoint in the north of the strip late Saturday night. Israeli tanks fired two shells at the Palestinians, killing one of them and wounding another.

The dead Palestinian was wearing the uniform of a PA security force, and was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, a flak jacket and hand grenades. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine said the men belonged to their group and were on a mission to strike inside Israel. Two weeks ago, the DFLP killed three Israeli soldiers in a raid on an army base in Gaza.

Also on Saturday, a terrorist bombing was foiled when a taxi driver spotted a suspicious bag on a street in Nazareth. Police and bomb squad technicians arrived and detonated a bomb hidden inside the bag, which apparently had been left for pick-up by a terrorist for use elsewhere in the country.

On Monday, another bomb was discovered and detonated near the Israeli Arab city of Umm El-Fahm. The security road on which the bomb was found passes adjacent to the Green Line boundary between Israel proper and northern Samaria. Police suspect the bomb was meant to explode alongside an Israeli patrol.

In the same area today, Israeli vehicles were stoned for the second day in a row along the main highway that connects Hadera on the coastal plain with Afula in the Jezreel Valley.

Elsewhere, IDF soldiers found a bomb planted by terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip today next to a navy base on the Mediterranean coast. IDF sappers disarmed the device and no injuries were reported.

In addition, a Palestinian was shot and wounded today by Israeli border police after he attempted to run a roadblock north of Jerusalem.

Meantime, much of Israel was still trying to digest the first suicide bombing by an Israeli Arab. The wave of terror attacks on Sunday prompted renewed calls for the expulsion of Arafat from Gaza and the dismantling of the PA, while others insisted Peres should call off his expected meeting with Arafat this week.

Even moderate Shinui party leader MK Tommy Lapid lamented that if Arafat cannot stop the terrorism, then there is no point in Peres meeting with him. On the other hand, Lapid noted, if Arafat can stop the terrorism but refuses to do so, there is also no point in meeting with him.

Many Israelis demanded that the Islamic Movement in Israel be outlawed, just as the Jewish extremist group Kach was banned. The suicide bomber Hashibi was a member of the more militant "northern wing" of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Raid Salah. Activists in the Islamic movement have reportedly condemned the suicide attack and denied Hashibi came from their ranks.

Just before the Nahariya bombing, the founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel and leader of the more moderate "southern wing," Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, told an inter-religious dialogue forum that it was "understandable" why some Muslim clerics have officially endorsed suicide bombings. Darwish said he had personally expressed opposition to religious justification for suicide bombings, but he insisted that the suffering of the Palestinians made him understand those who approved such actions in religious terms. "They have nothing to lose," Darwish said of the Palestinians. "I argue with them, but I can't stand up to reasons like that," Darwish said.

But on Monday, Darwish strongly denounced suicide attacks. "To the end of my days I will condemn these acts, even if they are carried out by the imam of the Muslims, and not simply a youth here and a youth there," Darwish told Israel Radio. "I am not prepared to accept an act that harms innocent people."

The PA also issued one of its duplicitous official condemnations of the terror attacks inside Israel yesterday, adding that a return to negotiations was "the only way to provide stability and security."

But Palestinian terrorist factions openly praised the suicide bombings. "Palestinian resistance has managed to create a balance of terror with Israel and to achieve an advantage," declared Dr. Mahmud Azahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza. He called the attacks "acts of heroism" and said the Israeli retaliations are "proof of the failure of the Zionist government in the confrontation with the fighters."

On Palestinian radio, Hanan Ashrawi, who was recently appointed Arab League spokeswoman, claimed that, "the only language [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon understands is the language of violence."

Finally, Syrian Mufti Kaftaro praised the latest suicide bombing attacks against Israel, saying, "The heroic suicide operations represent a natural and legitimate reaction that must be blessed in so far as we reject the Zionist crimes against our people of Palestine."

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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