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2 Blasts in Israel Kill 13, Injure 51

Mideast: Jerusalem bus is target of first, deadlier suicide bombing. Second occurs 90 minutes later at hitchhiking station for soldiers in southern town of Ashkelon.

February 25, 1996|MARJORIE MILLER and MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

JERUSALEM — A suicide bomber detonated a powerful explosive on a bus in downtown Jerusalem today as rush hour began, killing at least 10 and injuring at least 30, a police spokesman said.

Ninety minutes later, Israel Radio reported a second suicide bombing attack in the coastal town of Ashkelon. At least three people were killed there and 21 injured when a man walked up to a hitchhiking station for soldiers and detonated explosives strapped to his body, according to Israel Radio. No further details were available.

In Jerusalem, the bus crowded with soldiers and civilians was waiting at a red light at the junction of Jaffa Road and Sarei Israel, near the central bus station, when a "very powerful bomb" tore the vehicle in half and hurled wounded and dead passengers into the street, said Arieh Amit, Jerusalem police commander. That bus and a second bus in the lane beside it burst into flames.

"We are taking out the bodies at this stage," Amit told reporters half an hour after the explosion. "We have taken all the injured to the hospital already. There are many killed and many injured. There are still bodies and body parts around."

"I was walking up the street. I saw fire in the first bus and people trapped inside, some alive and some dead," said Yitzhak Rubin, a bus inspector for Egged, Jerusalem's bus service. "Some were yelling, 'I'm burnt! I'm burnt!' I saw a body fly 50 meters [165 feet]."

Surveying the charred remains of the buses minutes after the explosion, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert made a grim assessment.

"This is the hardest and most powerful explosion as yet. This is very bad," said Olmert, who is also a parliamentary candidate for the opposition Likud Party. "This is a central intersection, Jaffa Road, a few hundred meters from the convention center and the central bus station. It doesn't look good. It shows there can be a political process and not the kind of security we aspire for."

Israel on Friday morning had lifted an 11-day closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that closure was imposed because the security forces had information that Islamic militants were planning a bus bombing.

The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad both vowed they would seek revenge after Yehiya Ayash, a bomb maker known as "the Engineer," was assassinated Jan. 5 in the Gaza Strip. Israel was blamed for his death, and Israeli officials have never denied involvement. Ayash was believed to have provided the bombs for at least seven suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis in the past two years.

Peres and the Labor Party he heads are in the midst of an election campaign, with balloting for parliament and the prime minister scheduled for May 29. Party leaders have said they fear that a renewed series of bombing attacks like that Israel endured in 1985 could cost them the race against Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu, its candidate for prime minister.

"This will be an uncompromising fight at which there will be heart-tearing moments like the one today," Peres told Israel Radio in an interview two hours after the Jerusalem bombing. "But it shall never stop. We shall take all measures in order to hit terror--and its arms--wherever it is," Peres said. "Painful as it is, terror will not determine our future." He said he had asked Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian self-governing authority, to "take all measures against Hamas and the other Islamic organizations."

Likud has argued that the government's September 1993 peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization has increased terrorist attacks on Israelis and reduced their personal safety.

Today's bombings were the first in many months and come at a time when Arafat is known to be negotiating with Iziddin al-Qassam, the military wing of the Hamas Islamic movement, to stop launching attacks from Palestinian-controlled territory. The Palestinians now govern themselves in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and are due to start negotiations with Israel in May over the future of Jerusalem and the sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel Radio said after the bombings that a closure had been reimposed on Palestinian-ruled areas for an indefinite period. Closures prevent tens of thousands of Palestinians from traveling to their jobs in Israel and keep all Palestinians living in the territories from visiting inside the pre-1967 borders.

"Here's the dilemma: We go on with the closure, and tens of thousands of families cannot be provided for. We discontinue it, and we are attacked," said government spokesman Uri Dromi, who also was on the scene of the Jerusalem bombing today.

"The peace process has suffered blows before and survived because of the determination of both sides to go on and fight extremists. The same will occur now," Dromi said.

All around him, the debris of the bombing remained. Nearly a dozen cars were damaged by flying metal from the buses. Teams of ultra-Orthodox funeral workers meticulously picked through the glass and debris, collecting body parts in plastic bags for burial.

"I can't speak," said Danny Pinto, a 24-year-old baker who was thrown from his motorcycle by the impact of the blast. His hands shaking as he smoked a cigarette, Pinto said he had rushed to the buses to see whether he could help.

"My friend was on the second bus," he said. "He said there were people with no heads [near him]."

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