JERUSALEM (Oct. 10)
The dust may have settled on Sinai’s bombed-out beaches, but Israelis now have to come to terms with Al-Qaida’s apparent arrival on their very doorstep. Rescue efforts at Taba and Ras Satan were called off Sunday.
Israeli extraction teams that had labored around the clock at the resorts since the Oct. 7 blasts went home, and Egyptian investigators hunted for tracks of the terrorists who had struck so ruthlessly.
For the family members of 33 vacationers slain in the coordinated car-bombings, all that remained was to mourn and ponder how a Sukkot trip to the Red Sea could have gone so tragically wrong.
“A guy goes with his girlfriend to travel in Sinai for the High Holidays and comes back in a box,” Reuven Avisaf said at the funeral of his son Roy, 27, one of three Israeli backpackers killed by a double blast at Ras Satan. “It is simply inconceivable.”
Ten other Israelis died at the Taba Hilton, which lost an entire wing when a truck loaded with 450 pounds of TNT rammed into the lobby.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the synchronicity and carnage were likely the signatures of Osama bin Laden’s terror network.
“This was intended to be a mega-attack that was supposed to topple the entire hotel and kill hundreds of people,” Shalom told Channel Two television Saturday. This sort of attack, he added, “is usually carried out by a certain organization called Al-Qaida.”
Egypt, which allowed in Israeli emergency teams and vowed to tighten counterterrorist ties with Jerusalem, balked at this notion.
Mindful of Israel’s ongoing military sweep of the Gaza Strip, some unnamed officials in Cairo suggested the Sinai attacks could have been specifically pro-Palestinian locals, rather than the work of international terrorists.
Some 30 Bedouins who work in and around Taba and Ras Satan had been brought in for questioning following the attacks, Egyptian security sources said.
Yet according to CNN, some in the Egyptian government believe the terrorists — eight to 10 in number — may have reached Sinai by boat from Jordan or Saudi Arabia and obtained their explosives from local Bedouins.
Among the dead were Oleg and Ludmilla Paizkov, who were spending their first romantic getaway at the luxury hotel since immigrating to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The attack orphaned their two sons, aged three and eight.
Tzila Niv died along with her two sons, Gilad, 11, and Lior, 3. They are survived by their husband and father, Zohar.
Eleven-year-old Khalil Zeituni, who lost his father to a car accident, was at the Hilton with his uncle. The boy died along with another Israeli Arab, Hafez Khafi.
Fate was even crueller for Asaf Greenvald, who stopped at the Hilton merely to use the restroom en route back to the nearby Israeli border.
The Taba Hilton, built by Israelis before the handover of the Sinai as part of the Camp David peace accords, had been the site of several rounds of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
“I would like to stress once more that although the attacks occurred in Egypt and struck a blow against it, they were directed against citizens of the state of Israel,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet.
The Sinai attacks resonated in Jerusalem in more ways than one. A secretary from Sharon’s office, Michal Alexander, died along with fellow backpackers Einat Naor and Avisaf in Ras Satan.
Sharon voiced gratitude for Cairo’s handling of the attacks.
“I want to thank President Mubarak and the Egyptian government again for the close cooperation,” he said.
Sharon and the Egyptian president talked by phone after the attacks.
On Saturday, Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter met Egyptian counterparts at Taba.
In the past year, Israelis had begun to return to the Sinai, a long-favored holiday destination, after a hiatus due to the Palestinian intifada. Drawn to its beaches, views of a sparkling blue sea and crinkly paper mache-like mountains as well as cheap prices, tens of thousands of Israelis shrugged off government warnings of possible terror attacks and headed across the border.
The attacks bore out a Sinai terror alert put out by Israeli intelligence before the High Holidays.
After the attack, a modern-day Exodus of wounded and shocked Israelis streamed back across the Israeli-Egyptian border — some by military rescue helicopters, others by ambulance and Israeli busses or by foot, their eyes wide with shock, wrenched from holiday merriment to the long reach of terror.
A pregnant Israeli woman, her head bandaged and blood splattered on her lilac dress was seen in media reports being attended to by paramedics, an Israeli boy was photographed on a stretcher, his T-shirt soaked in blood.
But the fact that thousands of Israelis still crossed the border, many of them remaining on the beaches even after the bombings, was cause for much head-scratching in Jerusalem.
“It is inconceivable that our intelligence services should be working so hard for a few thousand Israelis who choose to spend their vacation in Sinai despite the warnings,” said Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev, who suggested that citizens who knowingly flout government terror warnings forfeit any national insurance benefits should they fall victim to attacks.
(JTA correspondent Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)