BUDAPEST (Dec. 23)
The Jewish Agency will continue to fly Soviet emigres to Israel via Budapest despite a terrorist bomb attack Monday morning on a bus shuttling 28 of them from the downtown railroad station to the aliyah shelter near the Budapest airport.
Four of the emigres sustained minor injuries in the bombing. Four policemen in a vehicle escorting the bus were more seriously hurt, two of whom were reported in critical condition.
The bombing was said to be the first successful attack on Soviet Jews passing through the Hungarian capital, despite repeated threats. At least 160,000 have traveled via Budapest since mass emigration from the Soviet Union began in 1989.
The bombing was condemned by Hungarian Interior Minister Peter Boross in a statement to Parliament. He called it a “grave and unprecedented attack by professional terrorists.”
But by late Monday, no group had claimed responsibility.
A police official said at a news conference that eyewitnesses reported spotting two Arabs near the car shortly before the bomb exploded.
The car was demolished by the explosion, which left a crater six feet deep. Forensic experts estimated the bomb contained over 200 pounds of explosives.
Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, David Kraus, assumed the bombing was the work of Arab terrorists bent on stopping the flow of emigres to Israel. He said his country would retaliate.
In Jerusalem, the Israel Defense Force radio quoted Foreign Minister David Levy as saying “Israel not only has the tools but the ability to frustrate” such attacks.
JEWISH LEADERS OUTRAGED
The bomb, detonated by remote control, exploded at 9:50 a.m. local time, seconds after the bus passed the parked car it was concealed in, the Jewish Agency said.
The bus windows were blown out, and the rear of the vehicle caught fire. But passengers did not panic, Gabor Ban, a Jewish Agency official, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Ban, who was riding with the olim at the front of the bus, said he was lifted from his seat by the explosion.
“When I realized I was alive,” he said, he looked to the rear to confirm that the other passengers, including six young children and two infants, were also alive.
They got off the bus in an orderly manner and walked to a shelter at the airport parking lot a short distance away.
The emigres were later reported by the Jewish Agency to have arrived safely at a hostel, where a physician and a psychologist were on hand as a precautionary measure.
The hostel manager, Peter Fried, reported their morale was good, and they seem to have withstood the shock fairly well. He said the group was prepared to leave for Israel on an El Al flight Tuesday.
The Budapest bombing drew expression of outrage from Jewish leaders.
“We deplore this terrorist incident,” Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, declared in a statement issued in New York.
According to Cardin, the bombing was clearly an attempt “to interfere with the Hungarian government’s role in facilitating Jewish emigration and to intimidate would-be immigrants.”
NO PLAN TO CLOSE TRANSIT CENTER
Speaking in her capacity as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Cardin said, “All civilized men and women must be revolted by this contemptible assault on innocent travelers.
“This vicious and ugly terrorist attack reminds us again that hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel still live and that there are people willing to commit murder to express it,” she said.
Kent Schiner, president of B’nai B’rith International, praised the Hungarian government for stating its resolve not to allow the incident to deter the passage of emigrating Soviet Jews to Israel via Hungary.
In Israel, Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration Department, said the agency will continue regular operations at its Budapest transit station, regardless of the terrorist attack.
The center has processed 160,000 Soviet Jews since it opened in May 1990, Gordon said, and there is no intention to shut it down.
Many Soviet Jews still prefer to travel to Israel via Hungary, despite the establishment of direct flights to Tel Aviv from Moscow and St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad.
The main reason is that they can carry larger quantities of luggage and household effects by train to the Hungarian capital, from where it can be forwarded to Israel by sea via an Adriatic port.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv and Yehonathan Tommer in Jerusalem.)