JERUSALEM (Oct. 31)
Israelis, shocked and sickened by the firebomb attack on a bus that killed a woman and three small children Sunday evening outside the West Bank town of Jericho, could not help but speculate whether the tragedy would affect the outcome of Tuesday’s Knesset elections.
Both Premier Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud bloc, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, his Labor Party rival, condemned the attack, the worst in terms of civilian casualties since the Palestinian uprising in the administered territories began more than 10 months ago.
Neither politician referred to the election. But Labor sources did not conceal their concern that public outrage might tip the scales in favor of hard-liners on the right.
“The horrible incident at Jericho requires an appropriate response,” Shamir said Monday. “The murderers will be punished and their murderous intentions eradicated.”
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party remarked that “this is part of the price paid for our rule in the territories.”
The Israel Defense Force clamped a curfew on Jericho, a town northeast of Jerusalem with a population of 18,000. Soldiers scoured the town and surrounding countryside for the attackers.
The IDF chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, said Monday he had reason to believe the perpetrators had been captured. He offered no details.
Israel Radio reported that a gang of seven suspects was seized, some with past records of anti-Israel activities. Three of them reportedly have admitted their part in the attack, and sappers moved quickly to blow up their homes.
The victims were buried Monday afternoon in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery. They were identified as Rachel Weiss, reported variously to be 26 or 27, and her children: Netanel, 3; Rafael, 2; and Ephraim, 10 months old.
ORTHODOX JEWS FROM TIBERIAS
The family members, Orthodox Jews from Tiberias, were traveling to a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem when their bus was blocked by a barricade of rocks across the road at the northern entrance to Jericho. It was about 8 p.m. local time.
As the vehicle slowed down, it was attacked from the rear with two Molotov cocktails, which set it on fire.
All 22 of the passengers except Weiss and her children managed to escape from the burning vehicle, though five of them were injured, one seriously.
The woman’s husband, who got out unhurt, watched helplessly as his family died.
All of the injured were hospitalized.
They were identified as David Dolorosa, 20, a soldier who is reported in serious condition at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem; Hilla Lugger, 19, a soldier from Kibbutz Beit Hashita who suffered slight burns; and Sgt. Ron Leinwald, 21, of Kibbutz Reshafim, who was treated for burns and sent home.
Also injured were Dov and Sandy Bloom, a couple from Kibbutz Ma’aleh Gilboa, who were reported in fair condition Monday. Dov Bloom, 35, is a native of Pittsburgh; Sandy Bloom, 33, is a native of Brooklyn.
Lugger told reporters she was asleep at the time of the attack. She recalled “waking up to screams and the sight of smoke and fire.” She escaped from the bus through a window.
Leinwald, who also escaped from the bus but crawled back inside when he heard a woman scream, described how he tried to rescue Weiss and her children.
He said the woman seemed to be in a state of shock.
‘WHAT ABOUT MY BABY?’
“I was suffocating from the smoke. I could hardly see anything,” he said. “I counted the number of seats on toward the place where the voice came from. And then I saw her, a religious woman, wearing a head scarf, holding a baby in her hand, with another child sitting next to her.
“I grabbed her head and yelled, ‘Come with me,’ but she resisted, grabbed the seat and said, ‘What about my baby? I have another baby.’
“With the last of my strength I tried to pull her out, but she resisted,” Leinwald said. “I knew if I stayed in the bus both she and I would die. There was no chance. Almost unconscious, I managed to find the back door of the bus and pushed myself outside.”
The father was standing near the bus screaming, “But there’s a woman inside, there’s a woman inside.” Leinwald recalled saying, “Yes, I know. But there is nothing we can do about it.”
Gen. Amram Mitzna, IDF commander of the central region, which includes the West Bank, said grimly on Monday, “We have failed to protect the bus.” He said new measures would be taken to prevent further attacks.
IDF soldiers have already uprooted trees on both sides of the road near the site of the attack to remove concealment for bomb-throwers.
In recent months, more than 100 Molotov cocktails have been thrown at Israeli vehicles near Jericho, without causing casualties. Until the Palestinian uprising began nearly a year ago, Jericho and the Beit She’an-Jerusalem Road that passes through it were among the most tranquil parts of the West Bank.
Jericho’s restaurants have been popular with visiting Israelis, especially during the winter months when the temperature there is usually warm.
Some 10,000 mourners assembled in Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood Monday for the funeral. Among the eulogizers were the dead woman’s father, Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo Silverman, and the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz.
Meanwhile, Former IDF Gen. Rehavam Zeevi, leader of the new, far right-wing Moledet party, claimed Monday that the tragedy vindicated his proposed approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is to transfer all Arabs out of Israel and the territories.
With shock and anger fresh in the minds of voters Tuesday, extremist parties may do better than expected at the polls, analysts said.