JERUSALEM (Oct. 16)
A grenade attack on Israeli soldiers and their families in the Old City Wednesday evening killed one person and wounded 69 in the bloodiest terrorist foray in Jerusalem in more than two years.
The fatality, Dov Porat, 46, was buried in Holon Thursday. He was one of hundreds of parents and relatives who had just attended the swearing-in of 300 Israel Defense Force recruits of the elite Givati Brigade at the Western Wall, a short distance from the scene of the carnage.
As of Thursday noon, 34 of the wounded were still hospitalized. One was described in serious condition and seven others were reported to have suffered “medium” wounds.
Police and border police detained 18 Arab suspects for questioning and a curfew was clamped on the Old City. But the search for the terrorists spread to the West Bank where the Jordan River bridges were closed to block a possible escape route for the killers. Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy ordered an immediate inquiry into the circumstances of the attack.
‘A BLOODY HELL’
It occurred at 8:20 p.m. local time, as the young IDF soldiers, having just taken their oath and been presented with rifles and Bibles, were strolling with their families to a parking lot at the Dung Gate to board buses and private cars for home.
According to police, three Soviet-made F-1 grenades were hurled at them from ambush by two men who escaped in a car driven by a third. Within moments the place was “a bloody hell,” one eyewitness said. Dozens of wounded lay on the pavement crying for help.
Within hours, the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility for the assault in an announcement from its office in Cairo. But two other terrorist gangs also boasted of responsibility for attacking armed IDF soldiers. They are the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine headed by Naif Hawatmeh and a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Legion.
Such claims from different quarters are commonplace after terrorist attacks and are seen as attempts to enhance the status of competing terrorist organizations and to confuse the authorities. In this case there is some confusion over the nature of the attack.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was on the scene Wednesday night, said he doubted the attackers were aiming specifically at the soldiers. “PLO terrorists try to hit us anywhere, at any time, and any target will do,” he said.
Gen. (Res.) Rehavam Zeevi, a former advisor on terrorism to the Prime Minister, said on a radio interview Thursday that if Rabin’s assessment is based on information, he had nothing to add. But if the Defense Minister was merely speculating, “one should take into account the worst possibility, that is that the terrorists deliberately selected a military target. If so, they showed a greater degree of chutzpa (effrontery) and courage” than in the past, Zeevi said.
The inquiry ordered by the Chief of Staff will try to determine whether the swearing-in ceremony for the recruits, conducted under brilliant spotlights at the Western Wall, had been adequately protected and if proper security measures were taken, inasmuch as many civilians were at the ceremonies. Zeevi called for a more intensive war on terrorists. He said it should be continuous, employing whatever measures are necessary and should not ebb and flow along with the incidence of terrorist acts. He urged capital punishment for convicted terrorists.
The grenade attack also had repercussions on Israel’s relations with Egypt, which have warmed considerably of late since Egypt returned its Ambassador to Tel Aviv. The fact that the PLO announcement claiming responsibility emanated from Cairo triggered angry reactions among Israelis.
The Egyptian envoy, Mohammad Bassiouny, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Thursday and handed a formal letter of protest to his government. It said the Cairo announcement was contrary to “the new spirit” in relations between the two countries. One Knesset member, Haim Druckman of the National Religious Party, urged Israel to demand that the Egyptians close down the PLO office in their capital.
EXPERIENCE OF ONE RECRUIT
The tragedy was personalized in the experience of one recruit, Omer Porat, 18, whose father was fatally wounded. His mother, Naomi, 43, and his sister, Liat, 21, were also among the casualties. Hit by grenade fragments, they fell bleeding at his feet. The young soldier, also wounded, administered first aid to his mother and sister and then went in search of his father, who had disappeared in the confusion. He found him at the entrance of the parking lot, bleeding profusely while an officer attempted to revive him.
“He (his father) was losing a lot of blood from his chest,” Omer told reporters at his hospital bed. “He was breathing heavily.” After bandaging his father’s wound he accompanied him in an ambulance to the hospital. There doctors tried to save his life, but in vain. “He died in my arms,” Omer said.
The previous worst terrorist attack in Jerusalem occurred in April 1984 when a Palestinian gunned down 48 persons in a downtown street, killing one and wounding the rest.