Explosion near Israeli commuter bus kills at least one


Tuesday, March 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


(JERUSALEM) - Palestinian militants set off two explosions in Jerusalem six hours apart Tuesday, one by remote control near a shopping mall and the second when a man with explosives strapped to his body blew himself up outside a bus.

One person was killed, apparently the bus attacker, and 11 people were injured in the back-to-back explosions which came after Monday's killing of a 10-month-old Israeli girl by Palestinian snipers in Hebron.

The attacks coincided with the start of the Arab League summit in Jordan and placed growing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to retaliate. Sharon was elected last month on a promise to restore security to Israelis, but the government has been reluctant to respond during the summit.

``We have a war here,'' said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, adding that the government had expected an escalation of violence during the Arab summit.

The explosion close to the bus went off shortly after 1 p.m. in French Hill, a Jewish neighborhood in a disputed part of northern Jerusalem. Flames shot up the right side of the bus, and its back windows were blown out.

Danny Sarero, 35, said he was standing a few yards away from the bus when he heard the explosion. ``The next thing I knew I saw a person cut in two, a body and a head lying in the street. I've never seen such a thing. Pieces of flesh strewn around for 50 meters (yards),'' Sarero said. ``I'm in shock.''

Jerusalem Police Chief Micky Levy said the body was that of the attacker who was ``wearing a belt of explosives.''

``We're checking (whether) the terrorist was on the bus and got off or waited for the bus at the intersection,'' Levy said.

In a leaflet sent to news agencies, an unknown Palestinian group calling itself the ``Popular Army Front'' claimed responsibility for the blast.

The militant Islamic Jihad group, meanwhile, said it was responsible for a car bomb that exploded at 7:40 a.m. in Talpiot, a commercial neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. Three passengers in a bus passing by at the time of the explosion were lightly injured.

``We heard an enormous bang,'' said Shai Cohen, an employee at a nearby bakery. ``Burning (car) parts were strewn all over the street. Some of the parts flew right across the intersection into the east entrance of the mall. Children were screaming and running into the mall for shelter.''

Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin, speaking before the second bombing, said Israel would retaliate, but refused to say what steps the government would take.

``I can assure them (the Palestinians) that the response ... will be swift and will be coming,'' Gissin said.

On Monday, the Israeli baby girl was shot in the head as she was sitting in a stroller pushed by her father, Yitzhak Pass, who was wounded in the leg. Pass, his wife and baby daughter had just gotten out of their van and entered the Avraham Avinu enclave. They were near the enclave's playground when the shots were fired. Eyewitnesses and army commanders said it was carefully aimed and not a random spray of bullets

After the shooting, the Israeli military told Palestinian civilians to leave the Abu Sneineh area of Hebron, from where the snipers had fired.

Israeli troops then fired tank shells at Abu Sneineh. Thick black smoke rose from a building hit by an Israeli shell on a hilltop in the Palestinian neighborhood, source of almost daily gunfire at Israeli enclaves below.

Commenting in Amman late Monday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made no reference to the killing of the girl, only denouncing Israel's shelling of Abu Sneineh. Seven Palestinians were hurt in the shelling.

Jewish settlers in Hebron demanded that the army retake Abu Sneineh. The parents of the victim, 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass, said they would not bury the child until Abu Sneineh is back under Israeli control. Jewish law requires quick burial, but the parents said they obtained rabbinical approval for their decision.

Israeli troops withdrew from 80 percent of Hebron, a city of 130,000 Palestinians, in 1997, as part of interim peace agreements. Israel retained control over the downtown area that is home to 450 Jewish settlers who live there in several heavily fortified enclaves.

On Tuesday, troops sealed Hebron, barring Palestinians from leaving and entering. Several armored personnel carriers were deployed along a major Hebron access road every few kilometers, at some points blocking Palestinian traffic.

About 30,000 Palestinian residents of the Israeli-controlled downtown area were confined to their homes. Settlers were permitted to move around freely.