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All Israel Shares in the Anguish of the Families Whose Children Were Killed in Ambush

May 25, 1970
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All Israelis shared the anguish today of the families of eight school children, aged 6 to 14, killed by Arab terrorists in the ambush of a school bus near the Lebanese border Friday morning. Four adults were also killed in the bazooka and small arms attack. Twenty-one other passengers, mostly children, are in hospitals in Haifa and Safad today, eight of them in serious condition. The young victims, five from one family, were buried at Safad late Friday amid scenes of uncontrollable weeping and despair. Thousands of persons from all over Israel attended. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was at the graveside holding one of the bereaved fathers. Chief of Staff Gen. Haim Bar Lev was there and Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, who quoted the words of Israel’s poet laureate, the late Chaim Nahman Bialik, “Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for the blood of a child.” Scores of doctors and nurses were in the crowd administering tranquilizers to the mourning relatives of the slain.

All of the youngsters and two of the adult victims were from Avivim, a settlement in Upper Galilee near the Lebanese border. They were travelling to their district school at nearby Dovev in a bus that picked up children from Avivim and neighboring settlements each morning. The victims were: Yehuda Ohayon, nine, a third grader; Alisa Peretz, 14, an eighth grader; Haviva Biton, seven, first grade; Shimon Biton, her brother aged nine, third grade; Shulamit Biton, seven; Mimon Biton, seven; Hanna Biton, eight; Yaffa Batito, six; Shimon Ezran, 35, a member of the Avivim settlement committee; Mahlouf Biton, 25; Rammi Yarkoni, 35, the bus driver; and Esther Avichzer, 20, a teacher. There was no indication of whether Mahlouf Biton was related to the Biton children.

According to eye-witnesses the bus was travelling slowly in line with other civilian traffic along a road that skirts the Lebanese border some 500 yards away. The terrorists, lying in ambush, allowed the other cars to pass and then fired four bazooka shells and bursts of small arms fire at the bus. The driver was killed and the bus careened off the road and turned over. Other motorists halted and rushed to the aid of the bus passengers. Helicopters arrived soon to fly the seriously injured to hospitals. Others were rushed to hospitals in private cars. The bus floor was covered with blood and littered with torn school books and lunch kits. Police said the terrorists knew the bus they attacked was filled with school children. It was painted bright yellow, its identity was unmistakable and it passed over the same road every morning at the same hour. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist group headquartered in Beirut, claimed credit for the attack in a message to President Gamal Abdel Nasser apparently soliciting a commendation from the Egyptian leader. Posters appeared in Beirut Friday announcing that the Popular Front had ambushed the school bus. This is the same group that claimed, but later denied, responsibility for the Feb. 21 explosion of a Swiss airliner that killed all 47 aboard.


The bus tragedy was compounded by others. An Israeli police officer combing the area after the ambush had part of his leg blown off when he stepped on a mine. Shortly afterwards five parents of Avivim children were injured, three of them seriously, when their car overturned as they were speeding to the Safad hospital. Premier Golda Meir read Friday night a special Cabinet statement on the ambush attack that Israel placed full responsibility for the outrage on Lebanese government and would not stop demanding that Lebanon exercise its authority to halt “acts of aggression from Lebanese territory.” Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, speaking at the funeral in Safad for the dead children, said the “arm of the Israeli army is long enough and Lebanon will not escape with impunity.” According to newsmen at the scene, his words were interrupted with shouts of “revenge.” He warned in an interview earlier that Lebanese authorities should not succumb to illusions they would always be immune to Israeli punitive measures because the May 12 action was directed exclusively against guerrillas. He said that “it depends on the Beirut government on whether the May 12 raid was the last one or first in a new series. Our forces can inflict heavy punishment on the Lebanese which would eventually force those responsible for the conduct of their policies to weigh once again whether the damage resulting from an Israeli defense reaction is not a great deal heavier than that which might ensue from confrontation with the terrorists.”

After the ambush of the bus Mr. Allon said the Lebanese government can “no longer consider itself immune to an Israeli reaction as soon as we decide how, when and where to act.” He denounced last week’s Security Council resolution of censure against Israel asserting that the murder of the children on the bus might have resulted from it. He said it was no longer a Security Council but an “insecurity council.” Mrs. Meir said that the Security Council was convened at the initiative of Lebanon and that instead of condemning the murderers and the authorities who gave them cover, it condemned Israel for “having exercised our right of self-defense.” On Thursday, hours before the attack, Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galilee warned that the government “will not be able to remain indifferent to the dangerous infiltration of Syrians into Southern Lebanon and the anti-Israeli activity of the Damascus and Beirut authorities.” Speaking at the dedication of a new frontier settlement, he called the Security Council resolution “a distortion of elementary justice.”

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