Fifteen dead in Jerusalem suicide bomb

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The Independent Online

Israel has retaliated against the Palestinian suicide bomber who left 15 people dead in a Jerusalem pizza restaurant on Thursday. Israeli jets fired two missiles at a West Bank policestation, and also took over the east Jerusalem headquarters of the PLO. There were no reports of any casualties.

Earlier on Thursday, a plump lady lay outside the Sbarro restaurant with her brains bursting through her head. A child ­ perhaps three, perhaps five ­ was so mutilated by the bomb that its eyes had been blasted from its head. It was the atrocity every Israeli had been waiting for.

A Palestinian suicide bomber, a crowded, air-conditioned family pizzeria just before 2pm on an oven-like west Jerusalem afternoon ­ a favourite for children. And then the inevitable "claim". A telephone call to the Agence France Presse news agency in Amman. Just like that. There was blood and glass all over the street, on the stretchers of the Magen David ambulances, and on the faces of those who had survived.

First, they said two had died. Then five. Jens Palme, a photographer for the German magazine Stern, counted 10 dead in two minutes. Yehuda, a Jewish holidaymaker from Barcelona ­ first-name anonymity is one of the few things Israelis and Arabs wish to share here ­ saw "a soldier flying through the air, right up in the air, disintegrating" and "body parts flying around in the smoke". Israeli officials said later at least 15 died and 90 were wounded.

Some of the corpses were very small. At least six of the dead were Israeli children. Unforgivable was the word that came to mind. What did the child with no eyes do to the Palestinians? Of course, the corner of Jaffa Street and King George's Street was not the place to argue the causes of this horror yesterday. For the Israeli crowd that gathered outside the boutiques and shoe shops of Jaffa Street saw this as further ­ perhaps final ­ evidence the "terrorist" Yasser Arafat wanted them all dead, burnt alive, eliminated.

High above us, two tiny white Israeli helicopters whipped through the hot air and a group of whey-faced Palestinian youths in workers' overalls were pushed into a police van. "They have found some people," someone said. We never found out if they had been arrested or pushed into the wagon for their own protection. For on Jaffa Street yesterday afternoon, you could hear the authentic voice of Jewish west Jerusalem, enraged, shocked, explicit in their words. "I saw a two-year-old on the floor, in bits," a young man shouted. Alexander, he said his name was, a Jewish estate agent. "This was a little baby. What did he know of life? He knew nothing. He was in pieces. It was unbelievable."

A number of Orthodox Jews gathered round Alexander, black hats, white shirts, ringlets, nodding their heads vigorously. "When one or two Palestinians die, you press people say it's the end of the world. But the Palestinians terrorise our whole country. If we are going to have a war, so ­ we have a war. What more do the Palestinians want? When we offered them a finger, they want the whole hand. We offered them 98 per cent of their land ..." Questioning the statistic, defending the press, would have been obscene at this moment. A reminder that two Palestinian children, one two-year-old, the other five, had been killed in last week's Israeli missile assault on the Hamas office in Nablus; that so many dozens of the stone-throwers shot down by Israeli troops since the start of the intifada were children; that the youngest child victim of this new war was a Palestinian baby murdered by Jewish settlers ­ would have been setting fire to anger.

Effi was a paramedic who admitted that he first ran away from the explosion, towards the cloud of grey smoke and wave of glass that showered down the street. "There was a soldier in a very bad state and I think he had internal wounds. You know what? I think we are living in a war. But we don't have people going into restaurants and blowing themselves up. If Arafat can't stop this, people will explode and Arafat will get it."

And so it went on. David, a Jerusalem businessman, talked about "barbarism" and played the catalyst as a crowd of furious shopkeepers gathered. "If Arafat can't control his people, then we have to go in there and take the place and sterilise it. We should give him 24 hours to control it. The party's over and maybe they'll have to be put back under occupation. We're re-fighting the war of '47. The Arabs think they have limited liability. But if they lose, they go crying to the world for help."

I didn't want to think what "sterilise" meant, and the idea that Israel is refighting its War of Independence ­ and, presumably, the 1948 expulsion of the Palestinians ­ is a favourite theme of the ruling Likud party.

Up the street, the police ribbons were fluttering in the warm breeze like cordons round a fairground, the sun splashing over a million shards of glass, cops in flak jackets prowling close to a wall, blowing up abandoned handbags and looking for the nightmare of all ordnance-disposal groups: the second bomb. But suicide bombers only carry one charge, round their waist. By now, the Palestinian Authority was trying to react and its inevitably incompetent ­ and incomprehensible ­ spokesmen were attempting to remind the world of Palestine's casualties, of a "warmongerer" called Sharon "who wanted only war, not peace".

There are Israelis who suspect that is just what Mr Sharon wants, but the Palestinian was speaking at the wrong time, in the wrong place. So was Israel's spokesman who insisted that "it's about time the world realises who is the victim and who is the aggressor" and mentioned Israel's 150 dead. No mention, of course, of 500 Palestinian dead. Was Jaffa Street really the place to listen to these cynical men? On the steps of a shirt shop, a beautiful young woman sat down and wept, head in her hands. Beside her, an Israeli in a police jacket was waiting patiently. He was Ultra-Orthodox, long ringlets hanging below his ears. So what was his job, I asked? "Later," he said, "I have to find all the pieces of the bodies."

By nightfall, all the predictable statements and reactions to the bombing were being made. President Bush demanded that Mr Arafat "arrest" those responsible, while the Palestinian chairman condemned the bombing and called for a "complete ceasefire". The first "claim'' ­ by Islamic Jihad ­ was withdrawn; a later one by Hamas was not. The man "responsible", of course, was atomised by his own bomb in the pizzeria, and the bomber has already gained in prestige within the Palestinian community thanks to Israel's own policy of murdering Palestinian militants. With Mr Arafat's power corroded by this Israeli campaign, the corrupt old PLO leader is in no position to arrest anyone.

By the same token, Israel can hardly respond to a ceasefire which it claims to be its own initiative and which ­ thanks to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell ­ only Israel can judge to be successful.

And then, inevitably, came the reaction. Israel last night launched air strikes on a Palestinian police station in the West Bank city of Ramallah; there were no reports of casualties. There were also reports of Israeli tanks firing on Palestinian settlements in the Gaza strip and that PLO offices in Jerusalem had been raided.

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