Israel releases harrowing film of suicide bomb victims

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The Independent Online

Horrific video footage of the immediate aftermath of Thursday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem was released by Israel yesterday, an unprecedented step and part of efforts to justify the "separation fence" it is building in the West Bank.

The Israeli army raided Bethlehem yesterday in retaliation for the bombing, its first incursion into the city for six months, but the troops withdrew after arresting 12 Palestinians and blowing up the dead bomber's house.

In the Gaza Strip, the spiritual leader of the militant faction Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, announced the group was making an all-out effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners, after a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla movement Hizbollah.

Hamas yesterday made a belated claim of responsibility for the suicide bombing on Gaza Road in Jerusalem, in which 10 people were killed. The five and a half-minute video of victims released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry is likely to provoke controversy. The video shows mutilated corpses and body parts lying on the road and in the remains of the bus.

The shocking images include severed hands and feet next to notebooks, a mobile phone and a Jewish skullcap on the street, and a chunk of scarlet human flesh hanging from the twisted metal of the bus, dripping blood. One hand is shown still attached to a mangle of bone and exposed red flesh. No details which would allow the victims to be identified are shown.

This video can be downloaded from the Foreign Ministry's website, and Israeli newspapers said the ministry would make it available to foreign broadcasters. Such harrowing images are never broadcast in Israel.

The ministry said the images were being made public for the first time to justify the "separation fence" - actually a series of fences and walls - Israel is building across the West Bank. The International Court of Justice is to hold a hearing on the fence, but Israel yesterday formally challenged the court's right to hear the case. "It is true these pictures are difficult to view, but we are at war and it is time the world saw the truth," Foreign Ministry officials told Yedioth Ahronoth. "Our message is simple: if there were a fence, this simply would not have happened."

In fact, most international objections to have been to the route Israel has chosen for the fence, which cuts deep into the West Bank, rather than the idea of building one.

Six months ago, the Israeli army had pulled out of Bethlehem but cordoned it off, controlling who goes in and out. Yesterday's incursion was much more limited than other reprisal raids. That may have been the result of pressure from the US; the American envoy, John Wolf, is in the region trying to restart the peace process.

Hamas's claim of responsibility for the bombing came as a surprise. The group had been thought to be refraining from attacks inside Israel during Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire.

Its threat to start kidnapping Israeli soldiers was feared inevitable by many here after Israel released more than 400 prisoners for one Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers held by Hizbollah.

Sheikh Yassin said there was "no solution for the issue of [Palestinian] prisoners except by capturing soldiers of the enemy and exchanging them for ours". A "senior Israeli official" was quoted as saying: "Ahmed Yassin and his gang should be well aware we have additional methods to counter this and we suggest to them not to mess with us, not to even try."