2 new Hamas attacks kill at least 15 Israelis including 8 soldiers

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

TEL AVIV Hamas has renewed suicide attacks amid an Israeli military offensive against the leadership of the insurgency organization.

At least 15 Israelis were killed in two Hamas suicide bombings on Tuesday. The first took place outside a military base near Rishon LeZion. The second was in Jerusalem.

Hamas praised the suicide attacks and threatened additional strikes, Middle East Newsline reported. In a communique, the organization, which avoided taking direct responsibility, did not identify the bombers.

On Wednesday, however, Palestinian security sources said the two suicide bombers came from the West Bank village of Rantis west of Ramallah. The sources said both bombers were students at Bir Zeit University and part of a Hamas cell that sent a suicide bomber to a Jerusalem pizza parlor in 2002 in an attack that killed 14 people.

The first suicide strike took place at a hitch-hiking station frequented by soldiers outside an army base. The bomber was said to have worn civilian clothes.

The blast took place during an intelligence alert that warned of a major Hamas attack. At least eight soldiers were killed and 15 others were injured in the attack outside the Tsrifin base.

Hours later, a suicide bomber entered a popular cafe in Jerusalem and blew himself up. At least seven Israelis were killed and more than 40 others were injured.

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Earlier, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said Hamas was hesitating in launching a major strike against Israel in fear that the Jewish state would retaliate. Ya'alon said Hamas was alarmed by the Israeli assassination attempt of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin on Saturday. Yassin was slightly injured in an air attack in an apartment on Gaza City.

"I assess that Hamas will consider its survivability on what we do now," Ya'alon said. "They know that if they carry out a devastating strike they will be a target."

On Wednesday, an Israeli F-16 multi-role fighter dropped a bomb on a Gaza City home that killed the eldest son of Hamas spokesman Mahmoud A-Zahar as well as his bodyguard and wounded more than 20 others. A-Zahar himself was said to have been lightly injured.

Israeli officials said intelligence agencies expect Hamas to launch additional suicide bombings. They said authorities have received alerts of several operatives who have entered Israel with explosive belts.

The military, officials said, has again pressed the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Sharon was in India during the suicide strikes and officials said he has decided to cut short his visit and return to Israel later on Wednesday.

Hours before the suicide attacks, Israeli troops killed two Hamas insurgents in the West Bank city of Hebron. The insurgents, termed "ticking bombs," were identified as Ahmed Othman Badr and Izzedin Hadr Misq and were said to have recruited and trained suicide bombers.

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