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Sharon: Attacks Not Connected to Gaza Plan


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the media Tuesday that Israel would continue the uncompromising war against terror.. Sharon added that the tragic double suicide bombing attacks were not connected to the Gaza expulsion plan, which he stressed, would continue forward on schedule. And thousands of PA residents of Gaza danced in the streets and threw candies, expressing their joy over the double suicide bombing attacks in Be'er Sheva that claimed the lives of 17 persons and left more than 100 others injured.

Twin Suicide Bombings Rock Israeli City, 17 Killed

By VOA News, Ha'aretz & MSNBC

The southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva has been hit by suicide bombings on two city buses. Emergency services reported 17 dead and more than 100 injured in the blasts. Police reported that the blasts occurred almost simultaneously when suicide bombers blew themselves up on two buses some 100 meters apart in the center of Be'er Sheva.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, in leaflets distributed in the West Bank city of Hebron. Be'er Sheva is a city of some 150,000 people, located in the Negev desert about 24 miles east of the Gaza Strip and far from the usual scenes of Palestinian militant attacks.

The Izzadin el-Kassam faction of Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israel Radio that it is the government's policy to fight terror and he would do just that. Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said Israel would take whatever steps necessary to protect its citizens.

It has been more than five months since the last suicide attack inside Israel. That was on March 14 when two Palestinians blew themselves up in the Israeli port of Ashdod, killing 10 people. That attack led to an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip that killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israel says the lull in terror attacks is the result of continuing security operations and is not due to a lack of trying by Palestinian militants. Israeli security officials say they thwart dozens of attacks nearly every day. Israel also says its controversial security barrier being built in and around the West Bank has drastically cut down on the number of successful terror attacks.

Early Tuesday morning, Israeli troops caught and disarmed a man wearing an explosive belt as he tried to pass through the Erez checkpoint from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel. Official sources have confirmed that a three-year-old child was among the 17 persons murdered in this afternoon's suicide bombing attacks in Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev.

In response to the attack, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided in a Tuesday night meeting with top security officials, that it would launch a military offensive in the West Bank city of Hebron, the home of suicide bombers Ahmed Kawasma and Nassim Jabri.

Hebron will be surrounded and Palestinians' freedom of movement there will likely be severely limited. Shortly after the attack, Israel Defense Forces troops in the West Bank raided the bombers' homes. Security forces will also bolster security along the seam line between the southern Hebron Hills and the Negev, the area that the suicide bombers apparently passed on their way to carrying out the attack.

In addition, security forces have imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip in the wake of Monday's attempted suicide bombing at the Erez Crossing. Palestinian workers have also been banned from working in Israel or in the Erez industrial zone until further notice. Assassinations of senior Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are also expected to increase.

The initial investigation of the Be'er Sheva attack showed that both buses departed from the central bus station in the city, and two suicide bombers - one on each bus - blew themselves up at 2:50 p.m., about 100 meters apart.

"I heard a blast and I started to run to the site. Within seconds there was another explosion," said Gil Yehezekel, the owner of a business close to the location of the attack. "When I got there, there were people on the floor, wounded people, limbs torn off," he said. "The police and ambulances arrived in seconds."

The driver of the second bus that blew up, Yaakov Cohen, said that when he saw the bus ahead of his explode in a ball of flame he had a premonition his own vehicle would soon be next. "I saw the first explosion and thought, my God, I've got to get out of here. I drove [my bus] about 10 meters and then opened the doors," he said from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for leg wounds.

"I believe that between 10 to 15 people got off my bus. Suddenly I heard a huge explosion. I can't explain it but it was almost as if I knew it was going to happen. It was terrible, terrible ... I don't want to describe what I saw."

The Palestinian Authority condemned "any attacks that target civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinian," Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat said. The United States and European Union also condemned the attack. In the Gaza Strip, Muslim leaders praised the "heroic operation" over mosque loudspeakers. About 20,000 Hamas supporters sang and threw candy in the streets of Gaza City in celebration of the bombings and their casualties.

Hamas supporters said they were pleased the group's repeated attempts to launch attacks against the Jewish state had finally caused Israeli casualties. "Our religion orders us to respond in kind to aggression against us. You [Israeli people] are the ones who choose your leaders and choose to be their shields. Therefore your shields will suffer more blows," a leaflet said. This is a gift to the newcomers who arrived recently to our land," it added in a reference to recent wave of Jewish immigration to Israel. "We say to you: 'This is your fate, so wait.'"

Israel Police announced a heightened alert nationwide following the Be'er Sheva attacks. This was the first bus attack in Israel in over six months. Many officials are citing the lack of a counter-terrorism partition fence in the south.

US Calls for Palestinian Terror Crackdown after Israel Bombings

By David Gollust (VOA-State Department)

The United States has condemned the Be'er Sheva suicide bus bombings, saying a Palestinian crackdown against terrorist factions was long overdue. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, to express U.S. condolences to families of the bombing victims and to condemn the attacks "in the strongest terms."

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said there can be no excuse for the terror and violence the Israeli people have been forced to endure, and that Palestinian leaders need to take "immediate and credible" steps to end such activity.

"The time for excuses is long past," said Boucher. "We need to see actions that send a clear message that terrorism will not be tolerated. Attacks such as these not only kill innocent civilians, but they undermine the aspirations and the hopes of the Palestinian people as well." Boucher confirmed that the State Department's chief Middle East diplomat, Assistant Secretary William Burns, would visit the region in early September for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues including Iraq.

Palestinians Celebrate Deadly Israeli Bus Bombings

By Reuters

Thousands of joyful Hamas supporters took to Gaza's streets on Tuesday, throwing sweets in the air and singing songs to celebrate a twin suicide bombing that killed 17 people on Israeli buses.

"Revenge is so sweet," said one activist, hoisting high a poster of Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, a Hamas leader assassinated by Israel four months ago after the last deadly suicide bombing by the militant Islamic group in March. Hamas had vowed "a volcano of death" to avenge Israel's assassination of Rantissi and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - both killed in the wake of a bombing at Ashdod port - but were hampered by Israeli military raids and arrests.

Militants said they felt satisfied on Tuesday when two suicide bombers from the West Bank city of Hebron reached the nearby Israeli city of Be'er Sheva, where they boarded two buses and blew them up almost simultaneously. Body parts were scattered around by the blasts and the buses left charred and spattered with blood.

The explosions were greeted by hoots of joy, singing and street celebrations by about 20,000 Hamas supporters in Gaza, heartland of the militant group sworn to Israel's destruction. "It was just the beginning," a Hamas activist shouted over a loudspeaker as activists waved posters of Yassin and Rantissi and sang songs in their praise.

A videotape released by Hamas showed the two bombers - 22-year-old Nassem Jabari and 26-year-old Ahmad Qawasme - posing self-consciously next to rifles and posters of the dead Hamas leaders. "Yassin and Rantissi can rest in peace," a Hamas spokesman said over a loudspeaker. "Hamas men have never let us down," one supporter said.

Hamas Targeted Be'er Sheva Because it was Easy

By Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz (Analysis)

The bombing of the buses Tuesday proves Hamas' unwillingness to accept a cease-fire in anticipation of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as its people told Egyptian officials in Cairo last week. The meeting in Cairo ended without results, and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before Hamas found a way to penetrate Israel's defenses.

Be'er Sheva was chosen as a target because the way from Hebron to Be'er Sheva is relatively easy, in the absence of a defense barrier in the south of Mount Hebron.

The two suicide bombers arrived from Mount Hebron. The Shin Bet knows who they were. Tuesday the defense establishment heads convened in Tel Aviv to discuss Israel's reaction. It would be wrong to expect a decisive and surprising reaction to the two bus bombings. The only formula Israel has is continuing to foil suicide bombings on the basis of intelligence tips relating to specific incidents, by assassinations of persons directly involved in suicide bombings, stepping up the construction of the separation barrier, and setting a "price" for those who support terror. The past few months indicate that this formula has been relatively successful.

Hamas' reply to Egypt was not surprising. Its leadership sees Israel's disengagement plan as a threat, and even if it cannot prevent it, Hamas will try to make the IDF withdraw under fire. The Egyptians are familiar with this position, but want to prove to the residents of the Gaza Strip that they are doing everything to reduce Israel's military pressures on them.

Hamas is gaining considerable prestige from its high level meetings with Egyptian officials. At the end of the last round of talks, Hamas representatives said they would be willing to have another debate with the Egyptians after the latter receive Fatah's answer to the cease-fire proposal. They probably know that Arafat is not ready to issue an explicit instruction for a cease-fire.

Hamas in Hebron is considered one of the hard-core terrorist organizations, characterized among other things by the extreme secrecy with which it conducts itself. The intelligence services consider it difficult to crack Hamas cells in Hebron, and when things are quiet in Hebron for a long time, the Shin Bet gets suspicious, seeing it as the calm before the storm.

After several Hamas attempts to penetrate towns in the Sharon failed, it chose the southern, open way, where no fence separates Mount Hebron and the Negev. The fence route in the south has been decided on, but following the High Court of Justice ruling, the officials in charge started arguing on whether it should be changed. The planned route is not on the Green Line, and penetrates quite deeply into Palestinian territory, more than five kilometers in some places.

Chief Rabbi of Ariel Arrested on Rape Charges

By Itim

West Bank police Tuesday arrested the chief rabbi of the Ariel settlement, Shalom Nagar, on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman who sought his advice. Police allege that Nagar raped the woman and continued to harass her with telephone calls before the woman reported the matter.

Only after the police received the appropriate clearance for cases involving public figures did it open an investigation. The rabbi was taken into custody outside his home.

In a separate case, police Tuesday arrested a 65-year-old Petah Tikva man on suspicion of repeatedly raping a girl he employed in his store over the period of six years.

The suspect, a local storeowner who first hired the girl when she was 11 years old, admitted during investigation that he had maintained a relationship with the girl, but denied charges of inappropriate sexual conduct.

IBM Asks High Swiss Court to Reject Holocaust Lawsuit

By Reuters

Computer giant IBM has asked Switzerland's high court to block a Gypsy rights group's attempts to sue it for allegedly helping Nazi slaughter in World War Two, lawyers said Monday. The group accuses IBM of facilitating the mass slaughter of gypsies by selling Nazi Germany its punch-card Hollerith tabulating machines - the mainframe computer of its era - knowing it would use them to track and identify victims.

IBM had its European headquarters in Geneva during the war. "We have appealed the case to the supreme court in Switzerland and we are confident that we will prevail," IBM spokesman Fred McNeese said. IBM wants the high court to overturn a ruling giving Geneva courts the green light to hear the case.

If the Gypsies' case goes ahead and is successful, it could eventually cost IBM e12 billion in claims, the plaintiff's lawyer Henri-Philippe Sambuc said. "(But) if the decision overrules the court of justice in Geneva, the case will be over," Sambuc told Reuters by telephone.

The five plaintiffs, all of whom lost family members in death camps in the 1939-1945 period when Nazis killed an estimated six million Jews and 600,000 gypsies in Europe, will claim e20,000 each from IBM. Based on the outcome, Sambuc aims to proceed in Swiss courts representing a broader gypsy victim group and seek damages of e12 billion.

IBM has refused to discuss the suit in detail. "We are not discussing the charges and will discuss our case in court," McNeese said. The IBM appeal adds at least three months to the procedures, launched in 2001 and expected to last at least another five years as lawyers grapple with numerous complicated aspects of international law, Sambuc said.

In 2001, investigative reporter Irwin Black published a book called "IBM and the Holocaust" saying IBM let the Nazis use its machinery to carry out ethnic cleansing. At that time, IBM said it had lost control of its German subsidy Dehomag before the war began in 1939. Historians have known for decades about the Nazi use of Hollerith tabulators. IBM has contributed e3 million to a German fund to compensate the victims of World War Two slave labor.

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