Suicide bomber's attack thwarted by alert bus driver
A PALESTINIAN terrorist blew himself up at at an Israeli bus station yesterday, critically injuring two security guards, in the first suicide attack on the country since it withdrew from its Gaza settlements last week.
Dozens of people were treated for shock after the attacker set off his bomb prematurely as he was being chased by security guards in the southern city of Beersheba.
The attack came during the morning rush hour and underscored the fact that Israel's withdrawal from the coastal enclave was having little impact on an entrenched five-year pattern of mutual bloodletting.
Police said the assailant was carrying a bag filled with explosives and that the bombing would have had far worse consequences were it not for the actions of a bus driver and the two security guards, one of whom, Luway Abu Jum'a, is a Bedouin Arab.
Eli Horesh, the driver, said: "I was parked in the station and the terrorist came and asked me if I drive to the hospital.
"I referred him to line 19. I saw the guard Luway and I said 'Luway do me a favour - go and search [that man] because he appears to me to be very suspicious.'"
Uri Bar-Lev, the police chief for southern Israel, said the two security guards chased after the man and he blew himself up, injuring them.
Mr Horesh said his suspicions had been aroused by the heavy bag the bomber was carrying. "The school year has not started and he did not look like an army reservist," he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but three Palestinian groups said in separate statements that the bombing was a response to the Israeli army's killing of five Palestinians in the West Bank's Tulkarem refugee camp on Thursday and to two recent shooting attacks by extremist Jews that killed seven Arabs.
Israel said the five killed in the camp were wanted fugitives.
During the withdrawal from Gaza, carried out over six days beginning earlier this month, there were no Israeli fatalities from Palestinian attacks.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, condemned the bombing, although he also suggested the Israeli raid in Tulkarem had provoked it.
He urged Israel to show restraint. "We condemn such attacks. We call on everyone to refrain from retaliation."
A Hamas spokesman said the Beersheba attack should teach Israel that "Palestinian blood has a high price".
The bombing comes amid repeated statements from Israel and the United States that, with Israel having vacated 21 Gaza and four West Bank settlements, the onus is on Mr Abbas to rein in militant groups so peace negotiations can begin.
Mr Abbas has preferred to coax the militants into observing a ceasefire, offering Hamas political incentives.
Israeli hardliners, meanwhile, blamed the Gaza withdrawal for encouraging yesterday's attack by projecting weakness to the Palestinians.
"The terror organisations got a green light from him," the MP Uri Ariel said of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister.
Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet yesterday approved an agreement with Egypt that allows Cairo to deploy 750 troops along its border with Gaza to prevent weapons smuggling into the Strip. The plan will enable Israel to withdraw troops from the Gaza-Egypt border.
Mr Sharon's son, Omri, an MP from the Likud party, was indicted yesterday on charges of violating campaign finance laws, forging documents and perjury, in connection with fundraising activities for his father's 1999 campaign for the Likud leadership.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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