Israel Braces For More Terror After Latest Netanya Bombing

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Israel Braces For More Terror After Latest Netanya Bombing
The Israeli coastal resort town of Netanya was rocked by yet another terrorist bombing on Sunday, leaving four dead and up to ninety wounded, and sending Israeli police scrambling to counter the imminent threat of even more attacks inside Israel.

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and three elderly Israelis with a lethal blast during morning rush hour at a busy intersection in downtown Netanya yesterday, the fifth terrorist bombing in the city in the past three years and the third one within Israel in the past five days. The incident came just as Palestinian elements threatened to greet the new government of Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon with a wave of violence when he assumes power later this week and amid security warnings that more potential Palestinian bombers may already be hiding inside the Jewish state.

The three slain Israelis included an 85-year-old man from Tel Mond, plus his 58-year-old niece and a 70-year old woman, both from Netanya, a vulnerable area which lies only 10 kilometers from the Palestinian town of Kalkilya. Up to twenty other wounded victims remain hospitalized, as does a Palestinian illegally working in the town who was set upon and beaten unconscious by angry Jewish bystanders following the blast. He is to be questioned as a suspected accomplice in the incident.

The bombing occurred just before 9 a.m., when a young Palestinian man carrying a large duffel bag tried to board a bus near the central market, but was refused entry by the driver. Police believe he became nervous about being detected and moved quickly into a crowded crosswalk to detonate explosives both strapped to his body and hidden in the duffel bag.

There has been a string of bombings in Israel in recent days. Last Wednesday, police discovered and safely detonated a hidden bomb on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. After allegedly spending the night with an Arab woman in nearby Holon, the main suspect was tracked the next day as he made his way north in a taxi-van. When the taxi stopped at a police checkpoint near Umm el-Fahm for inspection, the Palestinian man set off another explosive device he was carrying, killing a Jewish passenger and wounding eight other Jewish and Arab passengers and onlookers.

The suicide bomber in Sunday's attack also was believed to have spent one or more days with Arab friends inside Israel, waiting to strike. Israeli security sources are concerned that Hamas, Fatah or other Palestinian elements, with the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority, may have already sent several more terrorists armed with explosives over the Green Line and into Israel proper in recent days, following a Hamas warning on Saturday boasting that they have ten suicide bombers ready to carry out terrorist assaults "as soon as the Sharon government takes office."

In addition, there has been a flurry of intifada-related gun battles, grenade attacks and roadside bombings and stonings in Judea/Samaria and Gaza over the weekend and into the start of the week. Palestinian terrorists targeted in particular the besieged Jewish community of Psagot, just east of Ramallah, Israeli cars on Highway 443 between Givat Ze'ev and Modi'in, and Netzarim in central Gaza, which came under another mortar attack. While 10 Israelis were injured, Israeli soldiers involved in firefights shot dead as many as eight Palestinians, including a 9-year-old boy killed on Friday night and a 43-year-old woman on Saturday, both caught in cross-fires near Psagot. In the latest casualty report, Palestinian sources say the body of a 23-year-old man was found this morning near Jenin, believed killed during the course of an overnight gunfight with IDF troops.

The surge in violence comes just as Sharon prepares to take office following his landslide electoral victory on February 6. Due to rising concerns over the "deteriorating security situation," Sharon has been able to swiftly forge a broad national unity coalition, which he is poised to present for Knesset approval on Wednesday.

On Sunday, Sharon condemned the Netanya blast as a "heinous" act and pledged that his government will "find appropriate answers" as to those responsible and "find a way to restore the sense of security to citizens." Sharon added, "We know very well that the most loyal forces of [PLO chief Yasser] Arafat are involved in attacks."

In what was likely his last weekly cabinet meeting, caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak noted "an increase in the scope of attacks and casualties... We must show stamina. Any conduct otherwise plays into the hands of the terrorists and - to a certain degree - even encourages them."

PA officials refused to condemn the Netanya bombing, saying they were not responsible and insisting it was justified by Israel's "occupation" and "aggression" against the Palestinian people. PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "The Israeli people should expect even worse than what is happening now. Its leadership chose this path."

And on Monday, a defiant Arafat stoked the conflict further by encouraging Palestinians "to continue their struggle until the Palestinian flag flies over every mosque and church in Jerusalem, capital of the Palestinian state." Arafat made the statement in a greeting published today in the Palestinian media celebrating the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice, Id al Adha. And after emerging from Muslim prayers at a Gaza mosque today, Arafat reiterated for reporters: "Despite the closure, this dangerous military escalation, the pursuit and the starvation, the Palestinian people are continuing our way until we raise the Palestinian flag over the walls of Jerusalem, the minarets of Jerusalem and the churches."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's bombing, but on Saturday Hamas had issued a statement warning it had recruited "more than 10 potential martyrs [who] were ready to strike the Zionist depths with their bodies and this will not take long... The world will see it on the first day the criminal Sharon takes power." Hamas spokesman Abed Aziz Rantisi added yesterday, "This was a brave thing to do, whoever did it." Meanwhile, top Hamas cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin warned "the Israeli people will soon suffer the way the Palestinian people are suffering." And today, Hamas leaders in Gaza said the bombing was to mark the first day of the Id al Adha feast.

The attack drew condemnation from the administration of US President George W. Bush, which demanded that the PA arrest those responsible.

Desperate to plug the gaping holes in the Israeli closure, especially along the lengthy, meandering and unfenced Green Line surrounding the "West Bank," Israeli police have reassigned all crime fighting personnel to security duty, postponed training courses, requested additional support from the IDF to help patrol Israeli streets and border areas, and repeated calls to the public to be on the alert for suspicious people or objects.

In Judea/Samaria, the IDF has been blocking off roads to close escape routes for terrorists after gunfire attacks, and has erected make-shift outposts to beef-up security on roads frequented by Israeli settlers. New maps have been distributed indicating roads open to Israeli motorists, who can only travel them under IDF escort.

The IDF completed construction of a 2-meter deep trench encircling Jericho last week, and now intends to do the same around other Palestinian cities, beginning with Jenin next. The move was taken to make it harder for Palestinians to use vehicles in drive-by shootings and other terrorist attacks.

While the Gaza Strip is surrounded by a high fence, Israeli officials acknowledge that it is impossible to seal off all of Judea/Samaria, where there are hundreds of tracks and unpaved roads on which Palestinians can bypass Israeli checkpoints. Shimon Peres, who is to be the foreign minister in Sharon's government, said a total unilateral separation of Israelis and Palestinians was impossible, and called for a renewal of security cooperation with the PA.

Meanwhile, Arafat has also put Palestinian security services on high alert fearing an Israeli retaliatory attack against PA military installations. The order is in place for the duration of the current Muslim holiday. The PA has also cancelled all official holiday festivities in Palestinian areas.

Bristling at recent comments by IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz that the PA was now participating fully in terrorist attacks, Arafat snidely replied that the only thing left for Mofaz is to use a nuclear weapon against the Palestinian people, after having exhausted all other means at his disposal.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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