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Bus Ambush Victims Mourned

Mideast: Funerals are held for five of the eight Israelis killed in the West Bank attack. Among the dead is a baby delivered by caesarean section.

July 18, 2002|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Reeling from the second attack on their settlement in seven months, the devoutly observant Jews in the West Bank enclave of Emmanuel buried their dead Wednesday, as Israelis grappled with the reality that not even the army's reoccupation of much of the West Bank has stopped the terror.

Just hours after funerals were held for five of the eight Jewish settlers killed Tuesday when Palestinian gunmen attacked a bus outside the settlement, a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv underscored the resurgent threat. A pair of Palestinians blew themselves up in the seaside Israeli city, killing at least three other people and wounding about 40.

Earlier in the day, an Israeli lieutenant and a Palestinian gunman were killed during a running gun battle across the northern West Bank's rocky slopes and narrow valleys. The army said it suspected that the militant was a member of the cell that ambushed the bus. Three Israeli soldiers were injured in the fighting, and a military spokesman said troops spent the day searching for other members of the cell.

"After 26 days of quiet, we are back at the starting point," mourned the lead editorial Wednesday in the Israeli daily Maariv, referring to the weeks-long lull in fatal attacks on Israeli civilians before the bus ambush. "Once again there is terror, and victorious cheers on the Palestinian side. Once again [Palestinian Authority President Yasser] Arafat pays lip service in condemning terror, and once again we bury our dead."

At least 17 Israelis were injured in Emmanuel. All of the dead and wounded were from the settlement, where a similar attack occurred in December, killing 11 Emmanuel residents.

The army said Wednesday that it believes that the same cell of the militant Islamic movement Hamas that carried out the December attack also ambushed the bus.

Most of the cell's members have been killed or captured since December, but the leader is believed to be alive and to have commanded Tuesday's attack, an army spokesman said.

"I hope that the operation which is currently going on will end in the killing of all of the four terrorists," Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told representatives of the Jewish settlements after visiting the scene of the attack. "We know who they are; we'll catch them all. We'll also get those who sent them."

Among the dead from the bus assault was a baby boy delivered by caesarean section after his mother, who was eight months pregnant, was badly wounded in the pelvis and leg. Doctors initially resuscitated the infant, who was born without a pulse. But he died early Wednesday, according to hospital officials. His mother reportedly remained in serious condition.

Ben-Eliezer said the attack underscored the need for Israeli forces to stay deployed inside Palestinian cities across the West Bank. The army seized seven of the eight largest cities last month, after back-to-back attacks in Jerusalem killed 26 Israelis.

"Our presence inside the cities, considering the warnings we have [of planned attacks], is a must," Ben-Eliezer said. "This isn't a political question, it's a question of security par excellence. There's no possibility to evacuate the cities today."

Although Tuesday's bus attack was widely viewed here as an Israeli military failure, the army's presence inside Palestinian cities and across the West Bank has led to the arrest or killing of dozens of militants and the near-daily thwarting of attacks, army officials pointed out.

About 800,000 Palestinians have lived under virtual round-the-clock military curfews for nearly a month, allowed to come out of their homes only for a few hours every few days to buy supplies. Israeli intelligence has been able to collect "real-time" information on the ground, used to apprehend would-be suicide bombers and their handlers.

Until Tuesday, no Israeli civilians had been killed by Palestinians since the operation, dubbed Determined Path by the army, got underway June 20. However, at least 40 Palestinians have been killed, including 22 who were unarmed, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

Tuesday's attack prompted criticism here of the army and the government and calls for tougher action against the Palestinians.

Most galling for the army was the fact that the cell they believe attacked the No. 189 bus in December was able to elude capture for seven months, then brazenly return to the scene, carry out a similar ambush and escape again.

Sooner or later, wrote military analyst Amos Harel in the Haaretz daily, "every new chief of staff ... goes through this experience ... a military failure just as he takes office." Harel noted that Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, just happened to face his sooner than usual--a week after his appointment.

Several analysts agreed that the army is stretched too thin in the West Bank, where it is controlling Palestinian towns, pursuing militants, thwarting attacks and guarding about 200,000 settlers who live in hundreds of widely scattered communities.

Danny Naveh, a minister without portfolio in the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said those who fault the government should instead blame the Palestinian Authority.

"At this point, there is no one to talk to on the other side, no one to negotiate with and to reach some sort of solution and calm with. There's no one on the Palestinian side with whom we can start a dialogue which would lead to an agreement that he would assume the responsibility for security and do the work for us."

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