JERUSALEM (Oct. 10)
Bullet-punctured storefronts, a bloodstained roll of toilet paper, a lone sneaker.
These were the only things left Monday morning to remind people that just hours earlier, two Palestinians terrorists had opened fire on a crowd of diners in the heart of Israel’s capital.
The morning-after scene on Yoel Solomon Street, lined with open-air cafes and trendy shops, was a far cry from the chaos and despair that ripped through the pedestrian mall close to midnight the previous evening.
Packed with Israelis and tourists enjoying unseasonably balmy October weather, the street in the restored downtown section of Nahalat Shiva suddenly became what one eyewitness described as a “war zone.”
According to Jerusalem police, two heavily armed gunmen fired hundreds of rounds into the narrow, congested street, killing two people and injuring 13.
The dead were identified as Ma’ayan Levy, a 19-year-old soldier from Jerusalem, and Samir Amis Mograbi, an Arab resident of a village near Jerusalem, whose wife was also injured.
Levy was buried in her home village of Beit Zayit on Monday afternoon. The wail of sirens pierced the city, as hundreds of police and IDF soldiers rushed to the scene. A dozen ambulances, their red lights flashing, evacuated the wounded, some critically, to nearby hospitals.
Police shot dead the two assailants, whom the police identified as members of Hamas. The two men, both of Gaza, reportedly discussed their suicide mission in a homemade videotape.
HAMAS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
Police bomb disposal experts later exploded seven hand grenades found on the bodies of the terrorists and in the nearby vicinity.
The entire center of the city was closed off as police scoured the area searching for a possible third terrorist as well as for unexploded grenades.
Hamas in Gaza claimed responsibility for the attack, and identified the dead assailants as Hassan Abbas, 21, and Issam Mhana Ismail al-Johari.
There were conflicting reports Monday as to whether one of the assailants had been a serving member of the Palestinian police force, but this was denied by Israeli officials Monday night.
According to Hamas, Johari crossed into Gaza from Egypt in July in order to join the Hamas’ armed terrorist unit, Izz a-Din al-Kassam. Palestinian sources said he had been a member of the Palestinian police since his arrival in Gaza.
Israeli officials confirmed that Johari had crossed into Gaza after receiving a visa from the Israeli Consulate in Cairo.
Israeli government officials vowed that acts of terrorism would not halt progress toward peace between Israel and the Arabs.
“We will fight these terrorist organizations. We will prevent them, to our best ability, from killing Israelis, and by no means will we allow them to achieve their goal to interfere in our move toward peace,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said at a news conference following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Monday.
Christopher, who was staying at the King David Hotel just blocks from the attack, echoed the prime minister’s resolve.
The terrorists “shall not succeed in killing the peace,” said Christopher, who was in the region this week for his latest round of shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Syria.
Christopher called on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to condemn the attack.
Although there was no immediate statement from Arafat, condemnation came from one of his top aides, Nabil Sha’ath, who called the attack a “violation of the peace agreement.”
Israeli opposition leaders, meanwhile, charged that the government was responsible for the attack.
‘A HOTBED OF TERROR’
Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu accused the government of providing “a hotbed and refuge of terror” in Gaza.
Likud Knesset member Ariel Sharon said the Israeli accord with the PLO had “placed the security of the citizens of Israel in the hands of Arafat.”
By noon on Monday, most of the bloodstains at the site of the attack had been mopped away, and glaziers were busy replacing panes of glass. Crowds of curious onlookers pointed to bullet holes, while waiters and shopkeepers worked hard to remove all traces of the 10-minute shooting spree.
Though the overall mood was surprisingly light, with several of the cafes open for business by midday, at one point a small but vocal crowd of angry men began to shout, “Rabin, go home!” “Rabin, go home!”
Ignoring the chanting outside, Ganit, a 21-year-old waitress at the Osteria Papas restaurant, recalled her ordeal while setting up tables and chairs.
“It was about 11:30 and I was carrying glasses to customers outside when I heard shooting,” she said.
The waitress, her eyes ringed with fatigue, added, “All of a sudden, the glasses broke. One of the other waitresses was shot, and we ran into the back room while we tried to stop the bleeding. We spent the night with her at the hospital.”
Alon Sela, the restaurant’s owner, said he had left for the evening when he heard about the shooting. Assessing the damage, he said, “Things could have been much worse. If it hadn’t been for a downpour of rain 15 minutes before the attack, many more people would have been sitting outside.”
Asked whether he had worried about such attacks in the past, Sela confided, “I lived in the States for 10 years, and when I returned to Israel, I began to worry about terrorism.
“But after a short time you get used to your environment,” he said, adding, “Things like this can happen anywhere.”
“We’re thankful we weren’t in the shop,” said Rivka Cameli, owner of a fine-housewares store in the center of the street.
Pointing to the bullet holes in her windows, and the broken crystal bowls on the shelves, Cameli said, “We heard about the attack on the news.”
Referring to the terrorism antennae that virtually all Israelis have developed over the years, Cameli said, “From now on, we will have to be even more vigilant.”
“God was watching over me last night,” declared Robert Vasl, owner of the Off-the-Square restaurant. “I realize now that there was nothing stopping the (terrorists) from opening the door and shooting into the restaurant.”
Both patrons and staff of his restaurant escaped uninjured.
Vasl, a native Australian, described how the terrorists “were standing right here, in the alleyway. I saw them shooting, so I hurried people into the back of the restaurant, over a barbed wire fence.”
The restaurateur added, “We’re going to lose a lot of tourism from this attack. This, and the buildup in Iraq, could send people packing,” he said, referring to the Iraqi troop movements on the Kuwaiti border.
“One attack like this, and it takes months to build trust again.”
(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)