Car bomb explodes in Jerusalem, as Israel and Palestinians try to enforce truce

Monday, October 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JERUSALEM (AP) - A car bomb exploded Monday in a residential area of Jerusalem, causing no serious injury but damaging Israeli-Palestinian truce efforts.

Islamic Jihad, a small militant Palestinian group, claimed responsibility for the blast, which left two bystanders lightly hurt by glass shards. Islamic Jihad and its larger sister group, Hamas, have said they would not honor a truce declared by both sides last week, at the urging of the United States.

Even before Monday's bomb, the cease-fire was shaky.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of using excessive force, despite pledges that it would show restraint in dispersing stone-throwers. Eighteen Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the past six days, including six boys age 17 and under who were shot dead while throwing stones at soldiers.

Israel complained that attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians have continued. Overnight, Palestinians fired two mortar shells toward Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and hurled grenades at two army posts. Two explosive devices went off near two army posts in the West Bank, the army said. No one was injured.

Monday's car bomb went off around 9:15 a.m. in a residential neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. The car was parked in a small private lot along Bethlehem Road which links Jerusalem to the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The bomb weighed 26 pounds and was studded with screws, nails and bullets, police said. The blast wrecked the car and damaged three nearby vehicles, said Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy.

Police using dogs searched the area for additional explosives.

A 16-year-old witness, Gal, said he was sitting on his bed when the blast went off. ``Suddenly there was a boom, and the window exploded into the room,'' Gal, whose last name was not given, told Israel radio. ``I saw the blackened car and two cars next to it in flames.'' Gal said he was lightly hurt by glass shards.

Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said the car was stolen several months ago. Police suspect the assailants might have planned to detonate the bomb closer to Jerusalem's center, but were deterred by the heavy security presence downtown.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arieh Mekel suggested that the blast would not derail truce efforts, but demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat try harder to prevent bombings.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Arafat was making every effort, but that ``at the end of the day he doesn't have a magic stick to change things on the ground the way he wants to change them.''

Islamic militants have said they do not feel bound by the truce, but some have suggested privately that they will halt bombings in Israel to avoid an international backlash against the Palestinians following the terror attacks in the United States.

However, Islamic Jihad said in a claim of responsibility for Monday's bombing, sent to Western news agencies in Damascus, that it would strike anywhere.

``We stress that there are no red lines that restrict our holy war and any Zionist in any part of Palestine is a target for our heroic operations,'' the statement said. Zionism is the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state.

Israel said the Palestinians had until Tuesday to enforce their part of the cease-fire, or the latest truce was likely to fail as had earlier ones during the past year of fighting. ``Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has never stopped violence,'' said Israeli Cabinet minister Tzipi Livni.

The Palestinians said the mounting death toll on the Palestinian side is the result of excessive force by Israeli troops. ``We do not think that a cease-fire can be sustained under such circumstances, where Israeli soldiers are obviously given orders to shoot and kill at will,'' Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

Amid the ongoing friction, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with senior Palestinian officials Ahmed Qureia and Saeb Erekat on Sunday for talks on the cease-fire. Later, regional commanders met in several parts of the Palestinian territories to discuss security matters, the Israelis said.

Under the Israeli-Palestinian agreement reached last week, both sides were to take several steps by Tuesday to ease tensions - and there were some signs of action by both sides Sunday.

The Israelis partially lifted a military blockade around the West Bank town of Jericho, an area that has been mostly quiet. Israel also reopened the border crossing it controls between Egypt and the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

In an unusual episode Sunday, Palestinian police in Gaza fired tear gas at Palestinian teen-agers to prevent them from confronting Israeli troops at a border crossing. In the past year of fighting, Palestinian security forces have rarely intervened to keep youths from moving toward Israeli troops.