Car bomb in market sows terror in west Jerusalem

On eve of Jewish Sabbath, Islamic Jihad bombers set about destroying fragile ceasefire agreed hours earlier by Arafat and Peres
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There was an enormous bang, followed almost immediately by a cacophony of sirens that could be heard miles away. The divided city of Jerusalem understands the meaning of these sounds only too well; Arabs and Jews knew at once it was a bomb set off in a bid to destroy an unborn ceasefire.

There was an enormous bang, followed almost immediately by a cacophony of sirens that could be heard miles away. The divided city of Jerusalem understands the meaning of these sounds only too well; Arabs and Jews knew at once it was a bomb set off in a bid to destroy an unborn ceasefire.

The car blew up in a narrow side street, several hundred yards from the popular outdoor Mahane Yehuda fruit and vegetable market. Thursday afternoon is busy as people stock up for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins tonight. Perhaps this was in the minds of the Islamic Jihad bombers.

The detonation was so intense that investigators at first had difficulties identifying the make of the car. The police - on high alert for attacks - may have spotted the bombers earlier. One witness said that moments earlier he saw a police van chasing a white sedan, which turned into the lane - Shomron Street.

Among the first on the scene was Yaacov Hasson, a paramedic who tried to save one of the two victims, who was later identified as Ayelet Hashahar Levy, 27, the daughter of the Yitzhak Levy, the leader of the right-wing National Religious Party in the Knesset. Her legs had been blown off. "I saw that it was all over," he said.

Within a few minutes, the surrounding streets were flooded by angry Israelis, many of them young men wearing the ringlets, black hats and long black coats that denote ultra-Orthodox Judaism. "Death to the Arabs," they chanted. Supporters of the extremist Zionist group Kach flourished banners, demanding revenge.

"We can never make peace with the Arabs," said Zalman Haskelewitch, 23, a religious student. "Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak are traitors for trying to do so." Word went around that an Arab was hiding in a nearby building. A mob of furious young men descended on it. Had Israeli mounted police not intervened there would have been a riot; there might have been a lynching.

Watching the scene in alarm were Joyce and Michael Yusef, Americans who sold their home in Colorado to retire in Israel, arriving in Jerusalem five weeks ago, the day before the intifada began. More than 168 people, mostly Arabs - have died since they arrived but almost all of the bloodshed has happened away from the consumer world of Jewish west Jerusalem. All of a sudden, it has spilled into the heart of the city which Israel claims as its capital. "I didn't have any doubts about living here until about today," Joyce said.

Near by, Ron Levy, 26, a public relations consultant from Jerusalem, was struggling to contain his rage. "Barak is to blame. Arafat is to blame. Clinton is to blame. We have seven years of peace talks, but they have got nothing. All we see is people being blown apart. The only way to answer this is to drop a bomb on Yasser Arafat's home tonight."

The bomb went off at 3pm (1300 GMT), just as a ceasefire was due to take hold, secured by the former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and Mr Arafat after marathon talks which ran into the small hours of yesterday morning.

It seemed as if the men, joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, would be implementing the Sharm el-Sheikh ceasefire, agreed two weeks ago but largely ignored. By mid-morning, the Israeli army said it was pulling back forces. And the Palestinian information ministry later put out a statement which stated that the leadership had "asked the Palestinian people and all our national forces to forge a united stand and express ourselves peacefully in our national struggle."

The bomb, claimed later by Islamic Jihad, was intended to wreck all this, but the ceasefire was always highly fragile. Last night, both sides formally remained committed to it but there was shooting south of Jerusalem and elsewhere on the West Bank. A 19-year-old Palestinian was killed at al-Khader near Bethlehem, and Palestinian gunmen were firing at a settlement near Ramallah.

In the last month, Israelis have seen eight of their soldiers killed - including two who were lynched. Palestinians have seen Israelis shoot dead more than 150 demonstrators, and permanently injure 1,000 more.

Yasser Arafat and his aides almost certainly do not wish to see the conflict expand outside the occupied territories. Bombs in which Israeli citizens are killed within their borders damage the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the western world.

In recent days, Mr Arafat has tried to coopt Islamic Jihad and Hamas into committees organising the intifada. He knows that cracking down would put his own position at risk. If he does so, he could lose the incomplete control he has begun to establish over the uprising. If he does not, there will be more bombings inside Israel.

Comments