|Bombing Rocks Jerusalem After Powell Meets Sharon
At Least 6 Killed, 60 Wounded in Bus Stop Blast
|By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 12, 2002; 7:36 PM
JERUSALEM, April 12 - A young woman mingling in a crowd of shoppers this afternoon detonated a powerful explosive strapped to her body, killing six people and injuring as many as 60 on the day that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell began his difficult peace-making efforts in the region.
The blast was the third this month, and dramatically illustrated for Powell what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials have been saying for weeks: that Israel is in a fight for its survival against terrorism, and that the string of unrelenting attacks justifies its massive military incursion into Palestinian areas on the West Bank.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia group linked to the Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, quickly responsibility for the bombing and immediately complicated Powell"s plans to meet with Arafat on Saturday.
Nearly 12 hours after the bombing, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher announced that Powell would not meet Arafat on Saturday in light of the attack. A senior administration official added that the visit could take place Sunday but no arrangements have been made. U.S. officials have made clear they are looking for Arafat to speak out against the bombing before a meeting can be scheduled.
"The secretary condemns in the strongest possible terms today"s terrorist attack and expects Chairman Arafat to do so as well. It is important that Chairman Arafat not miss this opportunity to take a clear stand against violence that harms the Palestinian cause," Boucher said.
Facing Arab complaints that the administration has condemned the suicide bombing but been reticent in criticizing Israel for its treatment of the West Bank population, Boucher said Powell would use his free time Saturday to hold discussions about the "severe humanitarian problems in Palestinian areas, particularly Jenin, and express our deep concern." Powell has scheduled meetings with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Powell was only about a mile away when today"s blast happened, about to board a helicopter for a tour of Israel"s volatile Northern border region with Lebanon. His helicopter did a turn in the sky to allow the secretary to survey firsthand the bombing site, where glass and metal mixed with body parts and a severed head across a wide area of asphalt.
Powell called Sharon, whom he had met earlier in the day, to express his regret about the attack, and he said it demonstrated why there needed to be a solution to the Middle East crisis. "I condemn the terrorists for this act that illustrates the exceptionally dangerous situation that exists here," Powell said in a statement.
Today"s attack seems likely to reinforce Sharon"s message that Israel"s security needs should take precedent over resuming political talks with Arafat, a man Israel has now labeled "an enemy."
The White House this afternoon called on Arafat to make a public statement denouncing terror. "Yasser Arafat needs to come out and publicly condemn today"s attack," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "This is terrorism. This is murder and Yasser Arafat needs to denounce it soon."
Ra"anan Gissin, a close adviser to Sharon, spoke of Powell"s first-hand experience with the bombing today. "His helicopter was in the air and he got an instant replay of a bombing in progress," said Ra"anan Gissin, a close adviser to Sharon. The bombing, he said, was "all the more reason we should be left alone to finish the job where we have to finish it."
"There"s no way you can avoid taking care of this main issue and leapfrog into the political process," he said. Speaking of Arafat, Gissin said, "We have written him off as a partner for peace."
The bomber was identified as Nidal Daraghmeh, a resident of Jenin, which has been the scene of the most intense fighting since Israel launched its West Bank incursion two weeks ago. Palestinians have accused Israeli troops of "a massacre" of hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin. Israel has denied the accusations of a massacre, but military officials did concede that more than a hundred Palestinians died in the fighting, and that the army plans to bury the bodies in a mass grave, to prevent the Palestinians from using the corpses to score propaganda points.
Witnesses described today"s bomber as a young girl of small stature. "We are talking about a young woman," said the police chief, Mickey Levy.
Israel Radio quoted one eyewitness to the bombing, who gave his name as Shimon, saying, "The body of the terrorist fell on me, and we were pushed into the Hava bakery." He said, "I couldn"t move around because there were pieces of flesh and bodies around me."
The blast occurred just after 4 p.m., at the crowded Mahane Yehuda market. The market was particularly crowded since it was just before sundown at the start of the Jewish weekend.
Initial police reports said the young woman first attempted to enter the market, and then moved to a bus stop. She detonated her device just as the No. 6 bus pulled up to the stop.
Doctors at nearby hospitals said the high number of wounded people was because of the powerful nature of the bomb. Doctors said the death toll would have been much higher if the blast had occurred in a closed space.
"Most of the wounds are shrapnel wounds and from metal parts that were flying all over the place," said Shlomo Stern, the medical director of Bikur Cholim hospital, which is less than a half-mile from the blast site. He said his hospital had treated 43 wounded people, including one severely injured woman with metal in various parts of her body, and three other seriously injured victims.
Staff writer Alan Sipress contributed to this article.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company