Hamas makes good on threat: 16 Israelis dead

Special to World
Thursday, June 12, 2003

JERUSALEM Hamas made good on its threat to renew suicide bombings against Israel, killing 16 people in a bus attack in Jerusalem.

The attack took place on Wednesday when a Hamas suicide bomber, dressed as an Orthodox Jew, blew himself up on a packed bus in downtown Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities said 100 people were injured and identified the bomber as a Palestinian from the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

"We're talking about a large bomb and a difficult attack," Jerusalem police commander Mickey Levy said.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the bus attack, the first since May 18. Israeli officials said security authorities have received 55 alerts of Hamas suicide and other strikes throughout the country. They said Israeli forces captured 20 would-be Palestinian suicide bombers over the last few weeks, 10 of them since the U.S.-sponsored peace summit in Jordan last week.

But officials ruled out the prospect that the suicide strike was ordered in wake of the failed assassination attempt of Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentisi on Tuesday. The Israeli air strike on Rentisi in Gaza City sparked Hamas missile and mortar attacks on Israeli positions in the Gaza Strip and in Israel.

"There's no question that there was an attack in the barrel," Yuval Steinetz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said. "It could be that the Hamas took an attack scheduled for next week and advanced it."

Later on Wednesday, Israeli attack helicopters struck a leading Hamas operative. AH-64A Apache helicopters fired anti-tank missiles toward a car in Gaza City in which two Hamas insurgents and three passersby were killed.

One of the casualties was Masoud Titi, who replaced Salah Shehada as military commander of Hamas after the latter was killed in an air strike in Gaza City last year. Titi was said to have been responsible for Hamas missile strikes against Israel. On Thursday, another Kassam-2 short-range missile was fired toward the Israeli city of Sderot.

Israeli officials said authorities have arrested the bodyguard of the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmed Qurei, on charges of preparing to carry out a suicide attack against Israel. The bodyguard was identified as Jamil Farhoun, 30, a resident of Jerusalem suburb of Azariyeh, and officials said he was ordered by the ruling Fatah movement to blow himself up in an attack against an Israeli civilian target.

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