JERUSALEM, Feb. 22 (JTA) — Palestinian terrorists seem to have a knack for odd timing. Just a day before jurists were set to convene at the International Court of Justice at The Hague to discuss the legality of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, Palestinian terrorists blew up a bus in Jerusalem. The bombing Sunday killed at least eight and seemed to lend new weight to Israel’s argument that the fence is needed to block terrorists. Israel, like the United States and several European countries, is boycotting the hearings at The Hague on the grounds that the international court has no jurisdiction in the case. The U.N. General Assembly voted in early December to send the issue of the fence to the international court. As if to emphasize the alliance between Israel and the United States, the Palestinian bomber chose to attack a bus right outside Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell Park, which was established in 1976 to honor the U.S. bicentennial and includes a replica of the liberty bell in Philadelphia. The bombing of bus No. 14 also took place just around the corner from the Inbal Hotel, where the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, was addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations when the blast occurred. Eight people were killed in the attack, and at least 60 were wounded. The Al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the morning rush-hour attack. A statement by the group called the West Bank fence “a Nazi wall which will not stop us attacking.” Israeli officials, by contrast, said the Palestinian attacker would not have been able to infiltrate Israel from his home outside Bethlehem had the 450-mile barrier been complete. “I hope that The Hague’s 15 justices get the message,” Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid told Israel Radio on Sunday. “If there had been a fence around Jerusalem, there would not have been a terrorist attack today.” Earlier Sunday, Israel began dismantling a 5-mile stretch of the barrier outside Baka al-Sharqiya, one of the areas where the security fence cuts into the West Bank. Israel’s Defense Ministry denied that the dismantling of the fence section was linked to The Hague hearing. Lapid called the move “good spin,” but Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom voiced concern that the move could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt by Israel. Despite the fact that the bomber was linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, the Palestinian Authority condemned the attack and vowed to catch those responsible. A statement from Arafat’s office said, “We will not stand idly by while Palestinian interests are harmed,” — apparently a reference to the damage the bombing could cause the Palestinian case at The Hague hearings. At The Hague, thousands of pro-Israel volunteers gathered to protest the court proceedings. Pro-Israel demonstrations also were being planned for Monday, including the public display at The Hague of the remains of an Israeli passenger bus gutted in another terrorist attack in Jerusalem last month. Emphasizing Israel’s vulnerability, police found that the Palestinian bomber may have boarded the No. 14 bus after its guard — common on Israeli buses these days — disembarked. Also Sunday, police closed Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa. Police cited inadequate security after a plainclothes female police officer managed to get by Maxim’s doorman with a decoy bomb hidden under her clothes over the weekend. Last October, a suicide bomber from Islamic Jihad killed 21 people at Maxim’s.
Jerusalem attack on eve of fence hearing