- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

JERUSALEM A Palestinian suicide bomber set off a powerful explosion last night in an Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem at the end of the Jewish sabbath, killing nine persons, including a baby girl.
The bomber reportedly walked up to a group of children in an alleyway soon after dusk and set off the explosion. Among the dead were an 18-month-old toddler in a stroller, four other children under age 10 and four adults. At least 57 were wounded.
The blast shook downtown Jerusalem and sent flames leaping from a car parked nearby that caught fire. The attack occurred in an area where about 2,000 Americans in their late teens and early 20s study with about as many Israelis at Mir Yeshiva, a renowned religious school.
"I saw the car go up in flames," student Yisroel Cohen, 21, told The Washington Times. "I saw a lady dressed in her smart Sabbath garb calling for her baby. I saw people running with people on stretchers. It was a very frightening sight."
Almost immediately after the attack, a young woman rushed down the street screaming, "My child, my child." She was informed some hours later that her child had died.
The woman belonged to a religious group visiting the Sabbath Seminar guest house and was taking part in the final Sabbath meal and singing psalms when the bomber struck.
Two uninjured babies were taken to a hospital while rescue workers tried to determine whether their parents were among those killed.
"This has nothing to do with warfare, this has nothing to do with national liberation, this has to do with the murder of innocent Jews," Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold said. "The state of Israel knows how to defend the people of Israel, and will do so."
Early today, Israeli helicopters launched four missiles at Palestinian Authority headquarters and a small factory in Bethlehem. The Israeli military said the strike was in response to the bombing.
A group called the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, aligned with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, later claimed responsibility for the attack. The group identified the killer as 18-year-old Mohammed Daraghmeh from the Deheisheh refugee camp near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
An unidentified representative of the group told Reuters news agency that the attack, which dealt another deadly blow to international peace efforts, was in retaliation for the deaths of 21 Palestinians after recent Israeli raids on two refugee camps in the West Bank.
After the suicide bombing, about 1,500 Palestinian men and youths, some firing shots in the air, chanted and marched through the camp to celebrate the killings.
Several angry Israeli youths last night gathered at the scene of the attack where blood and body parts were visible on stone-walled buildings on either side of the street and called for revenge.
The faithful at the nearby Avraham House of Prayer said they had paused for only a few seconds as the bomb rocked their synagogue, adding that they were determined not to yield to pressure.
Further down the street, a bar mitzvah party to celebrate a 13-year-old boy's coming-of-age continued, but without exuberance.
Arab East Jerusalem lies just across a wide road that once marked a no man's land between Jordanian and Israeli-held territory, and it is easy for any Palestinian to walk across the street unhindered.
Avraham Berger, 52, from Cleveland, asked: "What would happen if there was an attack like this in Washington, D.C., or if the Mexicans, for instance, were attacking border towns in Texas?"
Israel called the bombing an Arafat-instigated "murder for murder's sake." The United States denounced it as a "terrorist outrage" and urged Mr. Arafat to do more to prevent such attacks.
But although Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing, it said the blame lay with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "policy of aggression against the Palestinian people."
More than 1,200 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed since the Palestinians began the current intifada, or uprising, 18 months ago.
On Dec. 2, 16 persons were killed when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, leading to a suspension of U.S.-led mediation efforts.
A bomb attack occurred 14 months ago just yards from the site of last night's explosion. Despite the busy time of day, no one was killed, and a sign was erected saying: "A miracle happened here."
Palestinian bombs usually are set off in major shopping areas or cafes in central Jerusalem, but these locations now are heavily guarded, making backstreets an easier target.
On Feb. 17, a Palestinian suicide bomber from the armed wing of the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine killed two young Israelis and injured 30 in a pizza cafe at a shopping mall in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Israel yesterday withdrew troops from the Jenin refugee camp but continued a hunt for militants in the Balata refugee camp, saying it would go wherever it saw fit. On Friday, the Palestinians suspended all talks with Israel after the raids.
The surge in violence overshadowed a Saudi peace proposal, which would offer Israel normal relations with the entire Arab world in return for withdrawal from the land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left yesterday for his annual visit to Washington, where he is due to discuss the Saudi peace initiative.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who reviewed the Saudi plan yesterday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, said he would discuss the Israeli raids on Palestinian camps with U.S. officials this week. He said he would follow up with talks with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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