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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 26, 1996 V4, #35
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Hamas Terror Strikes Jerusalem and Ashqelon

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Two suicide bombings by the militant Palestinian group Hamas left 25 people dead in Israel Sunday, in a renewal of the kind of terror attacks which were commonplace a year ago, but have not been seen in several months.

Police say it was a large bomb -- perhaps 22 pounds, including packages of nails and bullets -- which exploded on a crowded bus near Jerusalem's Central Bus Station just before 7 a.m. local time, during the morning rush hour on the first day of the Israeli work week.

The blast was heard through much of the city. Twenty-three people died on that bus, including the bomber, and 50 were wounded, many of them seriously. They were mostly commuters heading for work, and some young soldiers on their way back to their units after a weekend at home.

Witnesses reported seeing body parts flying through the air when the bomb went off. Local resident Shashi Chasid lives in an apartment with a view of the scene.

"Boom! I hear, and I see. And the bus got up. And, you know, I don't know if it's a leg or a hand, something from a body, up, get up, and after this down. And fire. And people shout, 'Mommy, poppy, please help me, please help me!'"

Later, religious men from the Jewish Burial Society cleaned flesh and blood from the street, and from nearby trees and buildings.

About half an hour after the first explosion, another suicide bomber walked into a crowd of hitchhiking soldiers at a road junction near the coastal town of Ashqelon and set off an explosion. That bomb was smaller, killing only one person, in addition to the bomber, and injuring about 30.

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called it a painful day in a cruel war, but vowed to continue pursuing peace and to intensify the fight against terrorism. "We are determined to fight Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad without any hesitations, without any postponement and without any restrictions, as we are determined to continue the peace process. We have to look for a solution, not just for gathering some points in the struggle against the terror. And I do not have the slightest doubt that we shall win.

"I do believe that a stronger cooperation on the part of the Palestinian Authority may help. There is no perfection, even in the fight against terror. I don't think there is anybody that I have in mind that should be blamed at all. You fight terror. You have many successes as we did, but unavoidably you may also have failure. For the last seven months we hardly had a serious act of terror against us. And we feel that our capacity to confront terror was enlarged, not limited. Yet, I know that this is not necessarily the last act."

Peres declined to answer questions on his specific plans for the peace process, but he said Israel will live up to all its agreements, which would include a withdrawal from most of the West Bank city of Hebron next month. The Hamas claim says one of Sunday's suicide bombers came from Hebron, which was the site of a massacre of 29 Palestinians by a militant Israeli two years ago Sunday.

Peres said the Palestinian Autonomy Authority has done some effective work against the militant groups in recent months, and made some additional arrests Sunday, but he said it must do more. He reported that he said that directly to the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, when he called Sunday to express condolences.

In Gaza, Arafat condemned the bombings. "I condemn it completely. And I condemn any power behind it. It is not against only civilians, but against the whole peace process."

One of Arafat's senior advisers, Nabil Shaath, called the bombings "gruesome, grisly and horrible crimes.

"I am feeling deeply in pain, because I feel that every bullet, every shrapnel that goes into the body of an Israeli or a Palestinian is a bullet against our hope, our future. And equally I feel the pain whether it is an Israeli or a Palestinian."

Peres and other Israeli politicians, from all sides, called on each other not to politicize the bombings, but they came just as the campaign is getting started for early elections the prime minister has called for May 20. The opposition says his policy of handing over territory to the Palestinians has created unacceptable security risks, but he says there would be with or without the peace process.

When Peres visited the site of the Jerusalem bombing Sunday, some onlookers shouted "Peres go home," and some said "With blood and fire we will get rid of you." Later, Peres said he does not have all the answers on how to prevent suicide bombings, but he said he will not allow them to change his policy, even though he said he knows these were probably not the last such attacks Israel will have to endure.

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