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More on Be'er Sheva Bus Bombings

Nissim Vaknin was sitting behind the driver of the #6 bus, the bus that was hit first. Vaknin said, "Right next to me was a young man with long hair - I now think he was the terrorist - who sat quietly and did nothing unusual. At a certain point I got up for an older woman, and moved toward the back. The explosion was near the front door and the whole bus filled with soot, smoke, screaming and yelling. I picked up a young girl in my arms who was shrieking. I ran to the front of the bus, yelling to the driver to open the door. I glanced at where I had been sitting and saw the woman who sat down instead of me - torn to pieces."

Israel Threatens Syria After Hamas Bombings

By Reuters

Israel threatened Syria on Wednesday over what officials said was complicity in Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 16 people in the first such attacks in the Jewish state in nearly six months.

Security officials said the Israeli military would answer Tuesday's twin bus bombings with a renewed assassination campaign against leaders of Hamas, the militant group behind the attacks, both in the Palestinian territories and abroad. "Whoever is responsible for using terror against us won't sleep quietly," Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon told a parliamentary committee.

An Israeli missile strike later wounded five Palestinians, including militants, in Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, witnesses said. Minutes later, Israeli tanks and military vehicles rolled into the camp, a frequent scene of army raids.

Israel's threats heightened regional tensions by raising the specter of an air raid similar to one carried out deep inside Syria last October against a suspected Palestinian militant training camp. "We cannot sever (a connection of) what happened yesterday in Be'er Sheva from the activity occurring in Lebanon or Syria," Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as saying at a ceremony for the army's civilian employees. "Hizbullah activity in Lebanon, with the assistance of Iran, as well as Hamas in Damascus, is very intense, and from there a large part of the attacks against Israel are launched."

Israel accuses Syria of harboring militant groups and using Lebanese Hizbullah terrorists as surrogates against the Jewish state -- accusations consistently denied by Damascus. Hamas denied that its leadership outside of the Palestinian territories was involved to the attacks.

Tuesday's bombings aboard commuter buses in Be'er Sheva dashed Israeli hopes that Hamas had lost the ability to strike inside the Jewish state. A renewed drive against Hamas' hierarchy could deepen the latest spiral of violence, further complicating Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to pull out of Gaza by the end of 2005.

The bus bombings inflicted the worst Israeli death toll since an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed 23 people last October at a restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa. That attack triggered last year's Israeli air strike near Damascus, the deepest inside Syria in 30 years.

Yaalon said Israel must "deal with ... those who support terrorism whether it be elements of the Palestinian Authority, elements from Hizbullah in Lebanon or terror command posts in Damascus with Syrian approval." The Be'er Sheva bombings were Hamas' revenge for the assassinations of two top leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel al-Aziz al-Rantissi in missile strikes earlier this year.

Shin Bet Tried to Recruit One Be'er Sheva Bomber as a Collaborator

By Ha'aretz

The Shin Bet security service tried to recruit Naseem Jabari, one of the two bombers who carried out Tuesday's suicide bombings in Be'er Sheva as a collaborator. 16 people were killed in the twin attack on two city buses.

According to Jabari's cousin, Tareq Jabari, and his mother, Zinat, the future-bomber was handed a note while walking in Hebron, ordering him to report to the detention center in Gush Etzion to meet with a Shin Bet official. They said he visited the center, and told them that the Shin Bet agent tried to recruit him as a collaborator.

According to Jabari's family, the Shin Bet agent offered Naseem benefits, such as a magnetic card permitting work in Israel. But Jabari, who at that stage had apparently already been recruited by Hamas to carry out the suicide bombing, regarded the meeting with little significance.

The Prime Minister's office on Wednesday confirmed that a Shin Bet agent met with Jabari in April 2004. The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces warned Wednesday that Israel would "take care of those who support terror," singling out the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Hizbullah.

"We will take care of those who support terror," Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon told a meeting of the Knesset House Committee. "That is those in the Palestinian Authority, the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon, in the terrorist command in Damascus, which operate with Syrian approval and those who provide funding and weapons to terrorist organizations."

The IDF chief refused to comment on Syrian involvement in terrorism, primarily the attacks in Be'er Sheva, but said that, "I don't want to get into the question of what we will do, but everyone who is responsible for terrorism against us will not sleep soundly."

IDF troops surrounded Hebron on Wednesday morning, preventing anyone from entering or leaving. The West Bank city was the home of the two Hamas suicide bombers who blew themselves up on Be'er Sheva buses Tuesday afternoon, killing 16 people.

A senior military official told Ha'aretz on Tuesday that the Syrians continue to sponsor terror organizations operating out of Damascus, providing both logistical and financial backing. A high-placed source said, "It is not the PR departments of these organizations sitting in Damascus. It is their operational commands."

In October 2003, Israel Air Force warplanes struck targets close to Damascus several days after a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people in a Haifa restaurant. Israel at the time blamed Syria for its support for Islamic Jihad, which had dispatched the female bomber.

A 3-year-old boy was among those killed Tuesday, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up almost simultaneously on buses in the southern city; about 100 other people were wounded. Hamas claimed the attacks, the first suicide bombings inside Israel in five months. Of those killed in the attacks, 14 have been identified.

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 security forces will launch a military offensive in Hebron, the home of the suicide bombers Ahmed Kawasma and Nasim Jabri.

Following the attack, Hebron was placed under closure, and IDF soldiers arrested 12 Palestinians in the city overnight. Shortly after the bombing, IDF troops in the West Bank raided the bombers' homes. Security forces were also to 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.

Israel has also imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip, in the wake of Tuesday's attempt by a Palestinian to enter the Erez Crossing with an explosives device concealed in his trousers. Palestinian workers have 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."

Cohen said there had been 20 to 30 people still waiting to leave his vehicle when the bomb went off, and that none of the passengers who boarded his bus earlier had looked suspicious. "Believe me, I look and check," Cohen said. "It is very hard to identify a bomber ... I don't know how anyone can."

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.

Hamas claimed responsibility through a leaflet that surfaced in Hebron, 30 miles from Be'er Sheva, saying the attacks were revenge for Israel's assassination of its two top leaders in helicopter missile strikes in March and April. "This is but one of a series of responses in which the Iz a Din al-Kassam Brigades have vowed to carry out in response to the martyrdom of the leaders of our movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi," it said. "Revenge is so sweet," said one celebrator, hoisting high a poster of Rantisi.

Hamas supporters said they were pleased the group's repeated attempts to launch attacks 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," the 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 Weighs Retaliation for Suicide Bombings

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli forces have closed off the West Bank city of Hebron and are rounding up Palestinian militants in the area after Tuesday's twin suicide bus bombings in the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva, which killed 16 people and injured around 100 others. The government is said to also be weighing possible other options in response to the attack. Following Tuesday's attack, Israeli security forces moved in on Hebron, from where the two suicide bombers came. The West Bank city remains under closure and troops arrested at least a dozen suspected Palestinian militants there overnight.

Government spokesman Raanan Gissin told Israel Radio the security barrier, or fence as Israelis call it, is vital to security. Why is it that we have to bleed to death before the world understands why we need the life-saving fence," he said. "That's one of the main problems with this horrendous suicide bombing because the two terrorists penetrated Be'er Sheva through a place where we are planning to build the fence, but there's no fence yet."

Gadhafi Reportedly will Compensate Libyan Jews for Lost Homes

By Reuters

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, easing his country's way back into the international fold, on Tuesday became the first Arab leader to promise compensation for Jews who were forced from their homes due to religious tension. "Any Jew whose home had been taken away has to be compensated or given his home back on the condition that he had not taken away the home of a Palestinian in Palestine," Gadhafi said.

Thousands of Jews were forced to leave their homes in several Arab countries, including Libya, following successive Israeli-Arab wars since 1948. But Arab leaders dismissed or ignored Jewish claims for compensations for lost assets. No precise figures about the number of Jews forced to leave Libya are available nor estimates of the amount of compensation they might receive.

Gadhafi's gesture appeared to be part of his efforts to consolidate diplomatic gains made since last December when he announced Libya was abandoning its nuclear weapons programs. Washington now cites Libya, which suffered years of isolation and sanctions, as an example for other states accused of having similar arms programs to follow.

Gadhafi, speaking at a rally in his hometown of Sirte to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the bloodless coup d'etat that brought him to power, urged the United States to trust him and his drive to reconcile with the West. He also asked Libyans to cement the new image of Libya as a peace-loving country seeking cooperation with the world.

Gadhafi urged Libyans to show love and respect for foreigners wanting to invest and do business in Libya. "They are extending to us their hands for cooperation, we must show them our clean hands and give social, economic and financial guarantees for their investments and businesses," he said.

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