Amid growing frustration at Israel's failure to stem the violence, right-wing politicians yesterday urged Ariel Sharon's government to destroy the Palestinian Authority after 21 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed by Palestinian bombers and gunmen in less than 24 hours.
In the two main incidents, a Palestinian sniper shot dead 10 Israelis seven soldiers and three civilians from a hilltop above an army roadblock near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, at about 7am yesterday, 12 hours after a suicide bomber killed nine Orthodox Jews leaving a bar mitzvah celebration at a Jerusalem synagogue at the end of the sabbath. Six of the Jerusalem victims were children, ranging in age from seven months to 15 years. Four members of one family, father, mother and two children, died.
Aviva Nachmani, who had brought her son, Naveh, to Jerusalem for his bar mitzvah, or coming of age, described the panic as she looked for her children amid the carnage. "I saw a car on fire," she said, "bodies on the ground, little babies so burnt you couldn't see them properly. There were pieces of flesh all over."
Mrs Nachmani said she went through the flames into a building, searching each floor, screaming for her children. "Then I went out and searched through the bodies lying on the street.
"I thought maybe I would identify their clothes. I searched the streets like a mad person, street by street. It was crowded with people and I just screamed and screamed."
Eventually, she sobbed, she found them all safe.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a branch of Yasser Arafat's al-Fatah, claimed responsibility for both the attacks, which wounded dozens more. Pathologists took DNA samples from family members to identify some of the disfigured Jerusalem corpses.
The suicide bomber, identified as Mohammed Ahmed Dararmeh, 19, from the Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, walked into the Orthodox Beit Yisrael neighbourhood on the Israeli side of the seam between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem. According to some witnesses, he was wearing a Jewish skullcap. He approached a group of families standing in a narrow lane outside a hostel used by weekend guests, then blew himself up. A parked car exploded in flames. Walls were spattered with blood, the street littered with broken glass. "It was a horrifying sight," said Moshe Holtzman, a rescue worker. "There were dead people on the road. I saw the body of a baby girl."
Danny Naveh, a Likud cabinet minister, demanded that the government "put an end to Arafat's regime". Effie Eitam, a retired brigadier-general who aspires to lead the religious right, warned that if the government did not do so, "we will bring a war upon ourselves". A military solution, he insisted, had to come before a political one. "More force, and more force as much force as we have," was needed to defeat the Palestinians.
Uzi Landau, the Internal Security Minister, blamed Mr Arafat for the killings. "Until we destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority," he added, "there will be no chance for negotiations." Mr Landau's deputy, Gideon Ezra, a former senior officer in the Shin Bet security service, added: "Our army should fight as in a war against this enemy, which is not fighting an army but is trying to harm children, weak populations, whether on a bus or after prayer services."
The Labour half of Mr Sharon's coalition retorted that force would solve nothing. "A military solution won't end this," said the Transport Minister, Ephraim Sneh, another retired general.
The Palestinian attacks came in response to Israeli invasions of refugee camps near Nablus and Jenin, which killed 30 Palestinians, wounded more than 100 and damaged hundreds of homes. The tanks pulled out of the second camp yesterday morning, but maintained a blockade on both.
The troops were said to be looking for militants using the camps as safe havens. Colonel Aviv Kochavi, who commanded the operation in the Balata camp, said that "many of the terror attacks came out of this hothouse". He accused the Palestinians of transporting armed fugitives in ambulances.Reuse content