Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Jerusalem bombing: eye witness accounts

People ran around dripping blood among the bodies and debris while a baby sat in its pushchair, dead

Eric Silver,Katherine Butler
Friday 10 August 2001 00:00 BST

Crying women huddled on the pavement, their faces crumpled in despair. Some of the dazed but unhurt were led away by rescue workers, others sat on the kerb of Jaffa Street, rendered motionless by shock.

Around them, the scene was one of deafening chaos as ambulances, sirens wailing, raced to the spot that, a short time before, had been a bustling lunchtime pizzeria on one of west Jerusalem's busiest shopping streets.

Israeli security forces had warned police that they were expecting a major attack, possibly in Jerusalem. What came was the worst bomb blast in the city for years: the target was a branch of the popular Sbarro fast food chain.

After the blast, bodies lay sprawled on the ground. Many of the wounded, huge nails embedded in their skin, were covered in blood and their clothes had been blown off by the force of the explosion.

"All the glass blew out ­ 'boom!' I saw two dead people, one with brains spilling out of his head, another with blood pouring out of his nose," said 16-year-old Eliezer Vanzoari, his own arms smeared with blood. "I started to help move the people. I was shaking all over."

An off-duty soldier, Naor Shara, happened to be walking by at the time. "The worst thing I saw, which I think will haunt me all my life," he said "is a baby that was sitting in a stroller outside a shop and was dead. After the explosion, the baby's mother came out of the store and started screaming hysterically. She saw her baby before her eyes ­ dead."

People ran into Nava Perry's nearby store "dripping with blood", she said. "We heard a strong blast. It was clear it was a bomb. We saw bodies thrown all over the floor. I saw bodies inside the restaurant and the body of a little girl on the street covered in blood. Bodies were all over inside and outside."

Lital Deri told how she heard a massive "boom" and then saw bodies strewn around. "I saw a soldier flying through the air. People ran around with blood all over their faces."

Sarit Barashy, who was shopping nearby, said: "I heard a loud boom and I came out of the store and saw a woman with a baby covered with blood. The street was full of blood."

Jason Kanar, 20, a British man had been in the packed restaurant, along with the families enjoying school holidays and office workers on their lunch hour. Waiting for his food to arrive Mr Kanar had popped out to buy a newspaper.

In his absence, the suicide bomber, named by Hamas, as Izz el-Din al-Masri, 23, struck with a bomb concealed in a bag. Another claim by Islamic Jihad later proved to be erroneous after one of their own suicide bombers left on a mission at about the same time.

Mr Kanar said: "I saw a four-year-old child in somebody's arms, dead, dead, killed. I saw a man lying on the street shaking as if he was being electrocuted. A woman soldier sat motionless in shock inside with the table that should have been in front of her gone."

Anat Amar was also spared. She was giving pizza to her four children "when I heard a huge crash over my head and there was lots of smoke and my little girl flew down with all the chairs on top of her," she said. "I shouted to my eldest boy and he dived over and picked her up and ran with her across the road." She picked up the others and followed. They suffered only minor injuries.

Many of those caught up in the blast suffered horrific injuries from shards of flying glass and shrapnel. Three of the critically injured were between the age of four months and 18 months, a doctor at Shaare Zedek hospital said.

Outside the blackened ruins of the Sbarro, shattered glass and twisted metal covered the ground. Two baby's pushchairs stood deserted, with parts of their cloth material torn. Using tweezers, Orthodox Jewish volunteers searched for pieces of human flesh for burial. Forensic experts searched for clues.

Inside, the remains of the fluorescent-lit menu boards listing pizzas, and spaghetti dishes ­ Sbarro is a favourite with religious families because it serves kosher food ­ lay shattered on the ground next to cardboard pizza boxes. Wires hung from the ceiling.

It did not take long for the divisions to reappear. "We are in a war," said Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, after the blast at the Sbarro restaurant, a US-based chain. "We will act together with the Israeli government to reach every one of those who is responsible for terror, to hit them and kill them."

A crowd of angry Israeli youths gathered on the street opposite the still-smoking ruins of the restaurant. They started chanting, "death to Arabs".

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon rejoiced with celebratory rounds of gunfire and dancing following the explosion in Jerusalem. In Ein el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, men performed the traditional foot-stomping "dabkeh" folk dance as women and children offered Arabic sweets and juice to passers-by. "Mabrouk!" they said to one another, which is Arabic for congratulations.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in