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A Young Woman and a Bomb on a Beautiful Spring Day

Scene: At Jerusalem's integrated Mahane Yehuda market, Israelis were unusually upbeat just before suicide attack No. 110.

April 13, 2002|DAVID LAMB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — The Mahane Yehuda market on Jaffa Street is always crowded before Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and the mood there Friday afternoon was unusually upbeat for an anxious city living with the drumbeat of war and the danger of suicide bombers.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was in town, and however slim his chances were of arranging a cease-fire, his mere presence gave the Israelis' spirits a boost. The day was springlike--sunny and 75 degrees. The battlefront news, from the Israeli perspective, was good, with the military reporting that it was securing the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank after an eight-day battle.

Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, stopped at the market's deli, as he does most Fridays, to buy challah, a special Shabbat bread. Shimon Iluz bumped into his brother, and they stopped to chat in a doorway near the market. Eli Sheva, a Michigan-born resident of Jerusalem, looked at the vegetables on one vendor's cart and thought about how much she enjoyed Mahane Yehuda on Fridays and seeing Arabs and Israelis mix and get along fine.

A young woman, reportedly from the Jenin camp, also was on Jaffa Street on Friday, but she wasn't there for pleasure. Tentatively identified as Nidal Daraghmeh, she had explosives under her dress. She started to enter the market but apparently was unnerved by the sight of security at each entrance. So she turned and joined a queue of about 30 people awaiting the No. 6 bus to the neighborhood of Talpiot.

The driver, Awadallah Hussein, an Israeli Arab, came to a stop. As he opened the door, Daraghmeh blew herself up. The explosion was so powerful, car windows a block away were shattered. Six people died, in addition to the bomber, and as many as 80 were wounded, including Hussein. It was, Israeli authorities said, the 110th suicide attack against the Jewish state in the last 18 months.

Suddenly, Jaffa Street, a main thoroughfare, was in panic. Shoppers ran screaming for cover. A woman's head lay outside the deli. Arms and legs were strewn about, resting on the sidewalk among potatoes and melons. Broken glass and plastic shopping bags and shredded paper littered the street. And once again, the wail of sirens filled the air, as did calls for help.

"I admit my first thought was, 'How do you bring Powell here--not so he can see the dead, but so he can see those who survived?' " said Olmert, the mayor, who had just crossed the street and gotten into his car when the blast went off.

"How do you bring him here so that he can see their fear and anxiety, so that finally everyone may understand what cannot be seen from thousands of kilometers away? For them, this is a political problem. But for us, this is our life, and it gets harder from one attack to the next. I no longer know what to say to the shocked residents of the city."

"I had just greeted the mayor with 'Shabbat shalom,' " Iluz said. "Then this huge blast shook everything. The body of the bomber--at least I think it was hers--flew into the air and landed on my brother and I. It was a miracle we survived."

Sheva, the Israeli American, ran to help the walking wounded. Later, clutching a bloodied scarf, she said: "I believe the bomber belongs right where she went--in hell. There was no peace process before, and there isn't one now. There is war. I can't tell you how lovely this market is, when people are getting murdered here."

A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Mohammed Dahlan, the security chief in the Gaza Strip, said he believed that the bombing was in response to the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank and not related to Powell's trip. He reiterated the Palestinian Authority's stated position that attacks on civilians on either side is wrong.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militia has been at the forefront of planning and executing the suicide attacks that gave rise to the Israeli offensive. The Israeli campaign hit hard at the Jenin camp, viewing it as a nest of militants: The woman who blew herself up Friday was just the latest of a long string of bombers from there.

How much control Arafat exercises over the group is a point of debate, but the Palestinian leader is eager to meet Powell, and it seemed unlikely that he would approve an attack that has led to the delay, if not the cancellation, of that meeting.

The suicide attacks have brought fear and a sense of vulnerability more intense than anything Israelis have felt for years.

"Why doesn't the international community realize we are victims?" Odi Steinberger, 23, said as he watched emergency workers don gloves and pick up brown plastic bags used for the collection of body parts.

'For us, this is our life, and it gets harder from one attack to the next.'

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