JERUSALEM (Feb. 5)
An angry Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the Knesset on Monday that the murderous attack on an Israeli tour bus in Egypt on Sunday afternoon would not deter Israel from pursuing peace.
But while thanking President Hosni Mubarak for his condolence telephone call Sunday night, Shamir held Egypt responsible for the outrage and demanded that it find the murderers and bring them to justice.
Ten Israelis and two Egyptians died, and 17 Israelis were believed wounded in the attack, which was perpetrated by two masked men armed with machine guns and hand grenades.
The Egyptian fatalities were a tour guide and a security officer, who boarded the bus when it crossed the Egyptian border at Rafah.
Shamir said the attack was planned in advance with the sole purpose of killing as many Jews as possible.
In Washington, President Bush on Monday telephoned Shamir to express condolences, while Secretary of State James Baker called Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and the foreign minister of Egypt, Esmat Abdel Meguid.
“This horrible act of terrorism should be condemned by civilized people everywhere,” said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
The attack was also denounced by State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, as well as in statements released by major national Jewish organizations in the United States and Canada, all of which said that the incident must not be allowed to derail the peace process.
LIKUD SESSION CANCELED
Condemnations indeed were pouring in from all quarters and all points on the political spectrum, from Palestinians in East Jerusalem to Likud hard-liners.
The Palestine Liberation Organization issued a statement from its Tunis headquarters condemning the bus attack and disclaiming all responsibility for it.
According to the PLO, the incident underlines the need for quicker progress toward a peace settlement in the Middle East.
Minister of Industry and Trade Ariel Sharon, the most outspoken opponent of Shamir’s peace initiative, denounced Egypt, and said Mubarak has proved to be an unacceptable partner in the pursuit of peace.
Meanwhile, the scheduled meeting Wednesday of the Likud party’s Central Committee was postponed until next week. The meeting was foreseen as a showdown between Shamir and Sharon, and Sunday’s bus attack is now expected to bolster the hard-line views of Sharon.
Shamir demanded in his speech to the Knesset that in addition to tracking down the killers, Egypt must prevent its territory from being used as a base for future attacks on Israelis, and that the Egyptian media should denounce the attack.
He added, however, that “the victims and the bereavement will not deter us” from pursuing the cause of peace.
Security sources in Cairo said a nationwide manhunt is under way for the attackers.
White House spokesman Fitzwater said whoever they are, “the Egyptians are working hard to apprehend them as soon as possible.”
Egyptian police questioned the Palestinian driver of the bus, amid suspicion of possible collusion with the attackers. Both the bus driver and the driver of the white Peugeot 505 used in the ambush were Palestinians from the Rafah area.
At least two groups have claimed responsibility for the attack.
One is the Islamic Jihad, which has been active in Lebanon, and the other is a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Organization for the Oppressed in Egypt’s Prisons.
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)