- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

JERUSALEM — Twin suicide bombings killed at least 15 persons in Israel yesterday, striking a bus stop crowded with Israeli soldiers in a Tel Aviv suburb and a cafe in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem. The attacks underscored the collapse of U.S.-backed peace efforts.

There have been about 100 suicide bombings against Israelis over the past three years, but rarely have two attacks been carried out on the same day. Both bombers also died in yesterday’s blasts, which happened hours apart and wounded about 19 people in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion and about 40 people in Jerusalem.

There was no claim of responsibility for either attack. But Hamas members praised the first bombing in Rishon Letzion. The Islamic militant group had been expected to avenge Israel’s attempt Saturday on the life of its spiritual leader.

Earlier yesterday, Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron killed two Hamas members and a 12-year-old bystander and leveled a seven-story apartment building where the militants had been hiding.

The violence came amid political uncertainty caused by the Palestinian prime minister’s resignation, with an increasing number of Israeli officials calling for the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israeli government spokes-man Avi Pazner said after the first suicide attack that “the responsibility is shared between the organization that carried out the atrocity and the Palestinian Authority that did nothing to prevent it, and Israel will react accordingly.”

Ahmed Qureia, whom Mr. Arafat has asked to become Palestinian prime minister, said: “We express our regrets and pain for the innocent lives [lost] as a result of violence and counterviolence. Such an act stresses once again the necessity that both the Palestinian and Israeli leadership … search for ways to end this killing.”

In the second suicide attack yesterday, the bomber struck at the popular Cafe Hillel in the German Colony — a Jewish area of west Jerusalem — on a strip with many restaurants and small shops, killing at least seven persons.

Jerusalem police commander Mickey Levy told Israel Radio that one of the guards saw the bomber and tried to stop him, and that he then set off the bomb.

Hundreds of people milled about at the spot where the blast shattered the cafe’s windows and knocked down its sign. One body lay at the entrance covered in a white blanket, and the street was strewn with glass.

The blast set off dozens of car alarms. Police were breaking windows of nearby cars to check if they contained bombs.

The earlier attack happened about 6 p.m., when the suicide bomber walked up to a bus stop crowded with Israeli soldiers and set off the device as the servicemen were waiting for rides home outside the Tsrifin army base in Rishon Letzion.

Cpl. Eyal Schneider, 20, was walking toward the bus stop when he heard the explosion and saw a fireball. “People were running from the bus stop shouting, ‘Bomb, bomb,’” he said.

Police said eight persons were killed in addition to the bomber. Nineteen persons were being treated at the hospital, most of them soldiers, spokeswoman Nurit Nehemia said. Others were treated for minor injuries and released.

The bombers struck while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was visiting India. Militants have often carried out attacks during Mr. Sharon’s trips — occasionally prompting him to return. A senior Israeli official said Mr. Sharon’s India tour would continue.

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