NEW YORK (Dec. 2)
All eyes are on Israel to see how it will respond to a series of Palestinian suicide bombings over the weekend that claimed the lives of 25 Israelis.
Some observers believe the United States, which has pressed for Israeli restraint after previous terror attacks, is not doing so this time around.
They cite comments U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made during a television interview Sunday, when he said, “We’re not about to tell Mr. Sharon what he should do.”
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — who cut short his visit to the United States to return to Israel on Sunday — made it clear that Israel would not let the attacks pass unanswered.
Speaking to CNN, government spokesman Avi Pazner said, “Israel will certainly react. When blood is running in the streets of Jerusalem, Israel will not remain inactive.”
Israel was left reeling by the weekend terror attacks, which began Saturday night in Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. At least 10 people died and some 180 wounded when two suicide bombers about 40 yards apart detonated their explosives close to midnight.
The two bombings, which were almost simultaneous, hurled victims and severed limbs through the air.
The bombs were followed approximately 20 minutes later by a third bomb in a car parked on nearby Rav Kook Street. Israeli officials said that bomb was aimed at emergency workers treating the wounded.
All of the bombs contained metal shards and screws to maximize the number of injured, police said.
The suicide bombings occurred in the Jerusalem cafe district as young people were out on the town after the end of the Sabbath.
All 10 of those killed were young men, ranging in age from 14 to 20. All but two were from Jerusalem.
On Sunday, they were identified as: Assaf Avitan, 15; Michael Moshe Dahan, 20; Israel Ya’akov Danino, 17; Yosef Elezra, 18; Sgt. Nir Heftzdi, 19; Yuri Korganov, 20, from Ma’aleh Adumim; Moshe Yedid Levy, 19; Golan Tourjeman, 15; Guy Vaknin, 19; and Adam Weinstein, 14, from Givon Hahadasha.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the attack “one of the worst we have ever seen.”
The next morning, another suicide bomber killed at least 15 Israelis when he blew himself up on a bus in Haifa. At least 37 people were injured, three seriously. The bus driver said the bomber blew himself up when the driver called the man back to receive his change.
The explosion created a fireball that sent the bus careening into another bus traveling behind it. The second bus was damaged, but there had been no bomb planted on it, as some bystanders initially believed.
The roof of the first bus was torn off by the force of the explosion, which left bodies strewn across the street.
The Haifa suicide bomber was a 21-year-old plumber who had gotten engaged six weeks ago and was preparing for his wedding, his father told The Associated Press. Palestinian well-wishers told the family they should be proud of the young man.
In another attack Sunday, an Israeli driver was shot dead in the Gaza Strip. The motorist and five others were wounded while driving between the Jewish settlements of Nisanit and Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.
The shooting was carried out by two Palestinian gunmen in Israeli army uniforms. Israeli officials believe the terrorists later were killed by Israeli forces.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa and Gaza.
Hamas officials had vowed revenge after one of the group’s leaders, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, was killed Nov. 23 in an Israeli helicopter attack.
In another weekend terror attack, a bomb blew up near a bus early Sunday morning in the Jordan Valley. There were no injuries.
The weekend attacks were proceeded by another bus suicide bombing on Nov. 29. Three Israelis died when that bus, which was traveling from Nazareth to Tel Aviv, blew up near Hadera.
Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Brigades, a faction of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party, claimed responsibility for that attack.
Under intense pressure from the United States, including visiting U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, to crack down on terror, Arafat convened an emergency leadership meeting on Sunday, after which the Palestinian Authority gave its security forces new powers to rein in terrorists.
At that meeting, Arafat issued an order to arrest terrorists involved in attacks on Israelis. A P.A. statement said this was not the appropriate time to carry out attacks against Israel, and the leaders banned all armed demonstrations and any public display of arms.
Powell later said Arafat had to issue the order “if he was to remain in a position of authority.”
Powell told CNN on Sunday that a statement by the Palestinian Authority promising to arrest terrorists was insufficient. “Words are not enough any longer. Now we need to see action.”