- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

MEGIDDO, Israel Bus driver Mickey Harel, having already survived three Palestinian attacks, routinely asks all boarding passengers to open their jackets so he can check for explosive belts.

But yesterday that tactic didn't work. The bomb that destroyed his bus and killed at least 17 persons was in a car that pulled up alongside.

Though wounded, Mr. Harel dragged soldiers from the bus until the flames became so intense he could only stand by helplessly as his passengers were burned alive.

"I was in despair because I couldn't get any more of them out," Mr. Harel, 60, said from his hospital bed.

Most of the passengers aboard the No. 830 bus were sleeping on the early-morning ride to their army bases or work when the car with an estimated 40 pounds of explosives pulled alongside and detonated.

The blast rolled the bus like a kicked soda can, engulfed it in flames and hurled passengers onto the highway.

"I heard the explosion. I felt that the bus was being thrown and was being dragged and turned over," said Mr. Harel, a bus driver for 40 years.

He said he held tight to the steering wheel and jumped out through the smashed windshield when the bus came to a stop. Shortly after, the gas tank exploded, engulfing the injured survivors in flames.

"I saw soldiers thrown around the front of the bus. I quickly started to drag them out," said Mr. Harel. "The flames didn't allow me to go further inside."

Near Mr. Harel's hospital bed lay his blackened metal ticket holder a personal item drivers take with them at the end of their shifts and carry from bus to bus. In earlier attacks, he had forgotten his ticket holder; after three times, he remembered.

In October, Mr. Harel had pulled the bus over for a break in the northern town of Afula when a Palestinian gunman dressed as an Israeli soldier pumped bullets into the vehicle, killing three persons.

A month later, Mr. Harel said, he was driving 50 yards behind a bus that was blown apart by a suicide bomber near the Arab town of Umm el-Fahm. That attack killed three passengers.

Last month, at a highway intersection, as traffic lights turned green, a suicide bomber blew himself up on the side of the road as Mr. Harel was driving past. Only the bomber was killed.

One of Mr. Harel's superiors in the Egged bus company, Pibi Rosenberg, said he would be given plenty of time off to recover before coming back to work.

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