Hizbollah bomb link stirs fears for Israel's poll

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The Independent Online
The disclosure that a man who seriously wounded himself while constructing a highly sophisticated bomb was a member of Hizbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla movement, has heightened fears in Israel that further bomb attacks are planned before the Israeli election.

For weeks the Israeli courts have banned any mention of the man who was seriously injured by an explosion in the Lawrence hotel in east Jerusalem on 12 April, during Israel's military intervention in Lebanon. The blast blinded him as well as blowing off both his legs and a hand. It was revealed in the foreign press that he was carrying a British passport in the name of Andrew Newman.

The Jerusalem police revealed yesterday that the passport was stolen at a foreign holiday resort. They said the man's real name is Hussein Mohammed Hussein Mikdad, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim from the village of Farun who belongs to Hizbollah. A police spokes- man said that he arrived in Israel on 4 April on a Swiss Air flight from Zurich. He spent a few days in Tel Aviv before moving on to Jerusalem where he took a room in the Lawrence hotel in Salahudin street, in a Palestinian part of the city, on 9 April.

Three days later he blew himself up. The police say he intended to use a sophisticated bomb concealed in a radio to blow up an El Al aircraft, believing that it would be easier to do this leaving Israel than entering it.

For this purpose he had almost a kilo of RDX, a powerful explosive which is capable of destroying a aircraft, but which exploded prematurely. The timer was in the modified radio. This was "connected to the explosives and was connected to an external switch", the police spokesman said. "Detonating the explosives was accomplished using a hollow rubber tube, which had replaced the radio's AM antenna."

There are surprising elements in the police story. If he was a member of Hizbollah then he arrived a week before the start of the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon. It is also unclear why he should have thought it would be easier to plant a bomb on the El Al aircraft leaving Israel, given that security at Ben Gurion airport is tighter than at the foreign airports from which El Al flights depart.

The source of the police information is also not known since the man who blew up himself was said to be too badly injured to be interrogated. In Beirut Hizbollah denied that it had heard of Hussein Mikdad or that he was a member of the organisation.

In the wake of the disclosure about the bomber, who by the police account would have killed himself when he detonated explosives, security was further tightened yesterday in Jerusalem, paralysing traffic in the city where Israelis were celebrating Jerusalem day.

The government has sealed off 2.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from entering Israel until Sunday, although only a trickle of Palestinians have been allowed to enter the country to work since the suicide bombings in early March.

Israelis posted abroad were eligible to cast the first ballots yesterday in the vote for a prime minister and parliament, some two weeks before the rest of the country's population goes to the polls, AP reports.

Some 3,600 Israelis serving in embassies, consulates and the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which handles immigration to Israel, were eligible to vote. The first poll opened at the Israeli embassy in New Zealand yesterday followed by 103 other sites around the world.