Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Bombing in Israel leaves anger, horror in its wake


JERUSALEM, Aug. 9 (JTA) — One witness said the streets were filled with blood.

Jerusalem’s mayor said, “We are in a war.”

Those wounded by nails and shrapnel lay sprawled in the streets, bleeding as they waited for medical attention. Others sat in the street and cried.

A popular restaurant was a gutted ruin. A few moments earlier, according to Jerusalem police officials, a Palestinian man had wandered in with the lunchtime crowd and detonated a bomb.

Nearby, some young Israelis chanted, “Death to Arabs.” Some of them wore T-shirts that read, “No Arabs, No Attacks.”

A mother of four said she and her children had just recited a blessing over lunch when the blast sent glass flying everywhere.

Police on horseback cordoned off the area while bomb experts searched for more, as-yet undetonated explosives.

The one bomb that did go off Thursday killed at least 14 and wounded more than 100. It was the highest death toll since a June 1 blast outside a Tel Aviv disco killed 21 Israelis and wounded more than 100.

The bombing took place at the Sbarro Restaurant on the corner of King George and Jaffa streets, one of downtown Jerusalem’s busiest intersections. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack occurred around 2 p.m., when the restaurant was filled with customers, many of them parents with children on summer vacation.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, the final death toll was not clear.

There were initial reports of 18 dead, but Israeli officials later lowered the total. With two victims in critical condition, however, and at least 15 others in very serious condition, officials cautioned that the total still was preliminary.

Police described the bomb as large and packed with nails.

The names of six of the dead were released Thursday night: Zvika Golomber, 26, of Carmiel; Tehilla Maoz, 20, Jerusalem; Frida Mendelson, 62, Jerusalem; Michal Raziel, 15, Jerusalem; Lili Shmilashvili, 39, Jerusalem; and Tamar Shmilashvili, 8, Jerusalem.

Israel Radio reported that French tourists were among the victims. There also were unconfirmed reports that three Americans were among the dead.

“I saw a mother sprawled on the floor wounded, and beside her was her dead daughter,” said Ya’acov Hasson, an ambulance driver.

“I saw so many babies in an awful state,” one Magen David Adom volunteer said. “I wanted so much to help save them all, but there was not enough time. I saw dead and wounded, an experience I’ll never forget.”

Among the wounded was an Israeli woman having lunch at the restaurant with her four children. Her husband, a firefighter, arrived at the scene to find his wounded family.

As Israeli security forces and rescue crews dealt with the aftermath of the attack, reports came in of an explosion at the Jerusalem bus station.

Thought at first thought to be a terror attack, it turned out to be only a tire blowout on a bus.

Emergency personnel who had been called to the bus station rushed back to Sbarro.

Thursday’s bombing brought statements of condemnation from around the world. One high-ranking Palestinian official said Israel brought the bombing on itself, and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party praised the attack.

Arafat later issued a denunciation of the bombing.

As he did following the June disco bombing in Tel Aviv — when a massive Israeli retaliation appeared imminent — Arafat called on Israel to agree to a cease-fire. In a statement read by a broadcaster on Palestinian television, Arafat said the truce should begin Friday.

President Bush issued a statement condemning the bombing.

“My heartfelt sympathies and those of the American people are with the victims of this terrible tragedy and their families,” Bush said in a statement. “The deliberate murder of innocent civilians is abhorrent to all.”

Bush also urged the two sides “to return immediately to the cease-fire commitments they have previously made and to renew effective security cooperation so this kind of terrorism will not happen again.

“The United States stands ready to assist the parties in this effort, as it has in the past, but the effort must begin with the parties” themselves, Bush said.

A State Department official said the United States expects the Palestinian Authority to find those responsible for the attack.

U.S. officials want the Palestinian leadership to take “resolute action to prevent such things from happening again,” the official said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was among the world leaders who deplored the attack.

A Palestinian official saw things differently, saying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies were to blame.

The Palestinian leadership holds “Sharon fully responsible for what happened,” P.A. Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told Reuters shortly after the attack.

“The assassinations, the killings and terrorism that he practiced and escalated in recent weeks led to this result.”

Arafat’s belated cease-fire call came as Sharon’s Security Cabinet was to meet Thursday night to consider Israel’s response to the attack.

Israel accepted a U.S.-brokered cease-fire following the attack on the Tel Aviv disco, but it was not immediately clear whether there would be another truce now.

Israeli officials reacted cooly to Arafat’s latest overture.

He is “attempting to prevent an Israeli response,” a senior Israeli official was quoted as saying. “If he really wanted a truce, he would stop the terrorists from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

Even Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, among the most dovish members of the government, said Arafat could have prevented the bombing if he had acted more resolutely against Palestinian terror groups. Instead, Arafat is considering inviting the groups into a national unity government.

Differences about how to respond soon were apparent among ministers in Sharon’s unity government.

Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, a deputy defense minister in the former Labor government, said that despite the rage the attack provoked, Israel’s response should be “reasoned.”

Speaking on Israel Radio, Sneh said Israel should continue its policy of targeting suspected terrorists on their way to attack Israeli civilians. But broader steps would not necessarily be effective, he added.

But Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin, a member of Sharon’s Likud Party, said Israel must retaliate for the latest bombing.

“The Palestinians must understand that they will have a price to pay for the policy of their leaders,” he said.

Israel Radio quoted security sources as placing full blame for the attack on Arafat.

Instead of working to thwart terrorists and arrest them, the sources were quoted as saying, Arafat was fostering an atmosphere that encourages attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he spoke with Arafat shortly after the bombing, adding that he was pleased the Palestinian leader condemned the attack.

“Now he has to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Powell said. “And I hope that both sides will act with restraint.”

Powell added that he would be willing to “go anywhere it makes sense to go,” but said he believed a trip to the Middle East would be fruitless until Israel and the Palestinians reduced the violence.

“We’re trying to mobilize the international community to give that message once again — that the solution to the problem rests with the parties in the region.”

U.S. Jewish groups roundly condemned the attack.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs encouraged U.S. Jews to urge Bush and the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.

“It is not enough to express outrage and offer condolences,” JCPA Chairman Leonard Cole said. “The Palestinian Authority and its Chairman Yasser Arafat must be held accountable.”

Also on Thursday, two Israelis were killed in separate attacks in the West Bank.

In the first, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli soldier near the city of Tulkarm. Israel shelled Palestinian police positions in the area after the slaying.

In another attack, Palestinian gunmen killed a 17-year-old Israeli woman in a drive-by shooting at the entrance to Kibbutz Merav.

Three other Israelis were wounded, one of them seriously.

Thursday’s bombing came as Israeli security forces were on high alert for possible terror attacks. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said there had been warnings of an imminent attack in the capital.

“We tried to do everything to prevent it. Unfortunately, this time we were not successful,” Olmert told reporters near the site of the attack.

He also appealed to residents to act with restraint.

“I fully understand the pain and concern and fear of many people,” but “we are strong,” Olmert said. “Nothing will break us.”

Hours before the blast, Peres said Sharon’s refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority while violence continues puts the region’s future in the hands of extremists.

“If we say we won’t talk under fire, it means that every gunman can decide there will be no dialogue,” Peres said.

(JTA correspondent Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.)

Recommended from JTA