Israel blames Syria after 16 killed in suicide attacks * Be'er Sheva bus bombers were part of Hamas cell in Hebron
- Last Update: 01/09/2004 10:25
Israel blames Syria after 16 killed in suicide attacks
By Haaretz Staff
Israel blamed Syria for the double suicide bombing in Be'er Sheva on
Tuesday afternoon that killed 16 people, saying that it is still supporting
terrorist organizations in the country.
A senior military official told Haaretz that the Syrians continue to
sponsor terror organizations operating out of Damascus, providing both
logistical and financial backing.
A high-placed source said, "it is not the PR departments of these
organizations sitting in Damascus. It is their operational commands."
In October 2003, Israel Air Force warplanes struck targets close to
Damascus several days after a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people in
a Haifa restaurant. Israel at the time blamed Syria for its support for
Islamic Jihad, which had dispatched the female bomber.
A 3-year-old boy was among those killed Tuesday, when two suicide bombers
blew themselves up almost simultaneously on buses in the southern city;
about 100 other people were wounded.
Hamas claimed the attacks, the first suicide bombings inside Israel in five
Of those killed in the attacks, 12 have been identified.
They are: Karin Malka, 23; Emanuel Yosefov, 28; Tekala Tiro'aynt, 33;
Shoshana Amos, 50; Tamara Debrashivili, 70; three-year-old Aviel Atash;
Denise Hadad, 40; Maria Sokolov; Vitaly Brodski, 52; Rosita Leman, 45;
Larisa Gomanenko, 48; and Tatiyana Korotchenko, 49.
Karin Malka will be laid to rest at 5:30 P.M. at the new cemetery in Be'er
In response to the attack, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz decided in a Tuesday night meeting with top security officials,
security officials will launch a military offensive in the West Bank city
of Hebron, the home of Be'er Sheva suicide bombers Ahmed Kawasma and Nisim
Following the attack, Hebron was placed under closure, and Israel Defense
Forces soldiers arrested 12 Palestinians in the city overnight. Shortly
after the bombing, IDF troops in the West Bank raided the bombers' homes.
Security forces were also to bolster security along the seam line between
the southern Hebron Hills and the Negev, the area which the suicide bombers
apparently passed on their way to carrying out the attack.
In addition, security forces have imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip
in the wake of Tuesday's attempt by a Palestinian to enter the Erez
Crossing carrying an explosives device.
Palestinian workers have also been banned from working in Israel or in the
Erez industrial zone until further notice. Assassinations of senior Hamas
leaders in the Gaza Strip are also expected to increase.
The initial investigation of the Be'er Sheva attack showed that both buses
departed from the central bus station in the city, and two suicide
bombers - one on each bus - blew themselves up at 2:50 P.M., about 100
"I heard a blast and I started to run to the site. Within seconds there was
another explosion," said Gil Yehezekel, the owner of a business close to
the location of the attack.
"When I got there, there were people on the floor, wounded people, limbs
torn off," he said. "The police and ambulances arrived in seconds."
The driver of the second bus that blew up, Yaakov Cohen, said that when he
saw the bus ahead of his explode in a ball of flame he had a premonition
his own vehicle would soon be next.
"I saw the first explosion and thought, my God, I've got to get out of
here. I drove [my bus] about 10 meters and then opened the doors," he said
from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for leg wounds.
"I believe that between 10 to 15 people got off my bus. Suddenly I heard a
huge explosion. I can't explain it but it was almost as if I knew it was
going to happen. It was terrible, terrible ... I don't want to describe
what I saw."
Cohen said there had been 20 to 30 people still waiting to leave his
vehicle when the bomb went off, and that none of the passengers who boarded
his bus earlier had looked suspicious.
"Believe me, I look and check," Cohen said. "It is very hard to identify a
bomber ... I don't know how anyone can."
Sharon vowed in the wake of the attacks that "the fight against terror will
continue with full strength." Sharon will continue with the disengagement
plan, his aides said.
The Palestinian Authority condemned "any attacks that target civilians,
whether Israelis or Palestinian," Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat said.
The United States and European Union also condemned the attack.
In the Gaza Strip, Muslim leaders praised the "heroic operation" over
About 20,000 Hamas supporters sang and threw candy in the streets of Gaza
City in celebration of the bombings and their casualties.
Hamas claimed responsibility through a leaflet that surfaced in Hebron, 50
km from Be'er Sheva, saying the attacks were meant to avenge Israel's
assassination of its two top leaders in helicopter missile strikes in March
"This is but one of a series of responses in which the Iz a Din al-Kassam
Brigades have vowed to carry out in response to the martyrdom of the
leaders of our movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi," it
"Revenge is so sweet," said one celebrator, hoisting high a poster of
The IDF believes that the military wing of Hamas in Hebron is behind the
Hamas supporters said they were pleased the group's repeated attempts to
launch attacks against the Jewish state had finally caused Israeli
"Our religion orders us to respond in kind to aggression against us. You
[Israeli people] are the ones who choose your leaders and choose to be
their shields. Therefore your shields will suffer more blows," the leaflet
"This is a gift to the newcomers who arrived recently to our land," it
added in a reference to recent wave of Jewish immigration to Israel. "We
say to you: 'This is your fate, so wait.'"
Following the blasts, the police bolstered the number of officers across
the country. There had apparently been no alert that an attack was
Palestinian militants haven't carried out a suicide bombing inside Israel
since March 14, when 11 people were killed in the port city of Ashdod.
Earlier Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces soldiers caught a Palestinian man
carrying an explosives belt as he tried to cross into Israel from the Gaza
Last Update: 01/09/2004 09:04
Be'er Sheva bus bombers were part of Hamas cell in Hebron
By Amos Harel and Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents
The current local head of the terror cell that dispatched the suicide
bombers who carried out Tuesday's attack in Be'er Sheva was also
responsible for the attempted attack at the Caffit Cafe in Jerusalem two
The military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility in a leaflet that
surfaced in Hebron, 50 km north of the southern Israeli city, saying the
attacks were meant to avenge Israel's assassination of its two top leaders
in helicopter missile strikes in March and April.
"Our religion orders us to respond in kind to aggression against us," it
said. "This is but one of a series of responses which the Iz a Din
al-Kassam Brigades have vowed to carry out in response to the martyrdom of
the leaders of our movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi."
Muslim leaders in the Gaza Strip praised the double suicide attack over
mosque loudspeakers, calling it a "heroic operation."
In a new style, the leaflet, which called the attacks a "gift" to striking
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, used elements of psychological
warfare directed to Israeli citizens.
"You [Israelis] were mistaken if you thought that killing our leaders would
lessen our determination," the leaflet said. "Your leaders have harmed our
people. You are the ones who choose your leaders and choose to be their
shields. Therefore your shields will suffer more blows.
"This is a gift to the newcomers who recently arrived to our land," it
added, in a reference to recent wave of Jewish immigration to Israel. "We
say to you: This is your fate, so we advise you to reconsider."
The two suicide bombers, Ahmed Kawasma and Nisim Jabri, had apparently
known each other for several years, and coordinated the attacks almost
The two are members of the two most prominent clans in Hebron, the Kawasmas
and the Jabris.
Ahmed Kawasma owned an aluminum products store in Hebron, while Nisim Jabri
is a construction worker and lives near Kiryat Arba. Jabri's close
relatives, well-known Fatah members in Hebron, accused Hamas of
A few hours after the Be'er Sheva attack, IDF forces raided the homes of
the two suicide bombers and arrested several relatives. Kawama's home was
destroyed overnight Tuesday.
The terror cell that dispatched Kawasma and Jabri is headed by a relative
of Kawasma, Imad Kawasma, head of the military wing of Hamas, Iz a-Din
al-Qassam, in Hebron. He has been on the IDF's most-wanted list since the
beginning of 2003. In recent months the IDF raided his family's home
several times, but did not arrest him.
The organization is very compartmentalized, which makes it difficult to
apprehend its leaders. In contrast to terror cells in other cities in the
West Bank, the Hebron cell, as well as the cell in Ramallah, usually avoids
mistakes that reveal their whereabouts to Israeli forces. When they carry
out a successful attack, their leaders go underground.
Imad Kawasma is considered heir to the founders and heads of the Hebron
terror cells, Abdullah Kawasma and Ahmed Badr, who were killed by the IDF
Hamas attacks over the past two years were all carried out by the Hebron Iz
al-Din al-Qassam cell. In October 2003, more than 100 members of the
Kawasma family and others were arrested in an attempt to put a stop to the
activities of the cell, which have resulted in the deaths of over 80
While elsewhere in the West Bank the IDF has relatively good intelligence
sources, they are more or less groping in the dark when it comes to Hebron.
Last year, after a concerted effort, security forces managed to paralyze
both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With Tuesday's attack, the paralysis came to
Hamas in the Gaza Strip is trying to overcome its difficulty penetrating
Israel. It is seeking alternative routes into Israel, among them tunnels in
Rafah to Sinai and from there to the Negev.
The attack in Be'er Sheva was apparently not coordinated with Hamas in the
Strip. There apparently was also no connection between the Be'er Sheva
attack and the attempted suicide bombing at the Erez checkpoint before dawn
Earlier Tuesday, before the Be'er Sheva attack, Palestinian Authority
officials said that the PA had issued an ultimatum to Hamas in the Gaza
Strip to surrender the three Hamas members whom it accuses of an attempted
assassination against the deputy commander of the PA's general intelligence
in the Strip, Tareq Abu Rajab. PA sources say the three Hamas members have
taken shelter in the Strip's Jabalya refugee camp.