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Two Bombings in Jerusalem Test Israeli Response to Terror

March 28, 2001
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reconsidering his policy of restraint following two more terrorist bombings that wounded more than 30 people in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials viewed the two bombings Tuesday – which came a day after Palestinian snipers shot and killed a 10- month-old Jewish baby in Hebron – as a deliberate attempt to provoke a harsh Israeli response as Arab leaders convened for a summit to show support for the Palestinian uprising.

There have been six bombings within Israel since Sharon took office Feb. 6 – and several foiled terrorist attacks.

Last week, pundits said Sharon was waiting until after his inaugural Washington trip to unveil an iron fist. This week, they credited the restraint to the Arab summit in Jordan.

Some are questioning the wisdom of basing an Israeli response on the diplomatic calendar, which always has some imminent event that could justify Israeli restraint.

Israelis who swept Sharon into office on his promise to restore security now are clamoring for a strong counterblow that will quell Palestinian violence.

Senior sources in Sharon’s office, however, said Israel would not play into the Palestinians’ hands.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres expressed similar sentiments in his reaction to the attacks.

“With force” the Palestinians “will not achieve anything,” Peres said. The bombings are an attempt “to make an impression on the Arab summit and on us, but it will not. We must do everything so the peace process does not stop.”

In the first bombing Tuesday, an explosives-packed car blew up in the morning near a mall in the neighborhood of Talpiot.

The driver of a passing bus was moderately hurt, and four other people sustained light injuries.

The car, which had been illegally parked, had been stolen from the center of the country several weeks ago. Islamic Jihad militants claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the second attack, about five hours later, a suicide bomber wearing a belt of nail-studded explosives blew himself up beside a bus at the busy French Hill intersection, wounding at least 30 people, one of them critically.

Witnesses said the bomber boarded the bus but got off quickly when other passengers became suspicious.

The two attacks came as tensions ran high in Hebron after the murder of the baby girl a day earlier.

Shalhevet Pass was with her father, Yitzhak, when snipers opened fire on Hebron’s Avraham Avinu enclave from the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Sneineh, which overlooks the Jewish neighborhood.

Shalhevet, who was shot in the head, is the youngest victim of the six-month- old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her father also was injured.

Jewish residents of Hebron demanded that the army take control of Abu Sneineh. Several groups of Jewish settlers entered the area Tuesday and damaged Palestinian property.

Immediately after Shalhevet’s murder, Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben- Eliezer ordered that Hebron be sealed off and a curfew imposed on Abu Sneineh. The Israel Defense Force responded by firing with tanks and machine guns at the Palestinian neighborhood, and army officials advised Palestinians living there to evacuate their homes pending a further Israeli response.

Tuesday’s suicide bombing in French Hill occurred as Sharon was meeting with security officials to discuss how to respond to the earlier bombing and Shalhevet’s murder.

Until now, Sharon has said he would respond with a policy of restraint, targeting those responsible for the violence while avoiding collective punishment on the Palestinian population.

Sources in Sharon’s office said the policy of restrained response will continue only until the end of the week, Israel Radio reported. The sources said Israel wants to prevent an escalation of the conflict during the Arab summit that began Tuesday in Jordan.

Members of Sharon’s cabinet also said the government would respond differently in the future, but would not elaborate.

“The public will see a real change in the policy of the government. We will take the necessary steps to fight terrorism and restore security,” Likud Cabinet member Danny Naveh told Israel Radio.

The surge in violence has increased domestic pressure on Sharon for a more severe response.

Sharon overwhelmingly defeated Labor incumbent Ehud Barak in February elections by promising to restore security and deal differently with Palestinian violence – and right-wing legislators reminded Sharon of this on Tuesday.

“From what we’ve seen in the past few weeks, he has started off on the left foot,” legislator Michael Kleiner of the National Union Party told Israel Radio.

President Moshe Katsav said Israel had reached the limit of its restraint and needed new steps to prevent terror attacks.

At the Arab summit in Amman, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said the Palestinians oppose terrorism and violence – though he characterized military and economic measures Israel has taken in response to Palestinian attacks as “terrorism” and the “utmost forms of violence.”

Arafat appealed to Arab leaders to provide financial support so the Palestinians can continue their struggle against Israel.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who spoke Tuesday at the summit, said the international community has every right to criticize Israel for occupying Arab land and for its “excessively harsh response” to the Palestinian uprising.

Annan adopted a more balanced approach later in his speech, speaking of the need to reach a peace agreement that would respond “both to the legitimate desire of the Palestinians for national independence, and to the legitimate claims of the Israelis for recognition and security.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah told the summit the Arab world should support the Palestinians against Israel.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Israelis who voted for Sharon in February were “more racist than the Nazis.”

Assad also urged the United Nations to renew a now-revoked resolution equating Zionism with racism.

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