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Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2001

Two suicide bombers set off blasts, dozens of casualties

December 1, 2001

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— Two suicide bombers detonated nail-studded explosives in a downtown Jerusalem pedestrian mall crowded with young weekend revelers Saturday. The blasts killed the assailants and six bystanders and wounded 150 people.

Minutes after the back-to-back explosions, a bomb went off in a car parked nearby, sending panicked pedestrians running in all directions.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said it was "one of the worst (attacks) we have ever seen."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups have threatened to carry out attacks in Israel to avenge the killing of Hamas' military leader in the West Bank in an Israeli missile attack last week.

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority condemned the terror attacks, expressing its "deep anger ... and pain" and accusing those behind it of trying to derail a U.S. peace initiative.

The blasts went off just before midnight Saturday. "There were lots of limbs and dead bodies," said Michael Perry, 37, who ran out of a bar along the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall after hearing the explosions. "I saw three dead and what looked like the remains of the suicide bomber. It was just a lump of something," Perry said.

Another bystander, Eli Shetreet, 19, said he saw bodies being hurled in the air. "A lot of people were crying, falling, and there was the smell of burning hair," he said.

The blasts were so powerful that they shattered the windows of cars parked a block away. Blood was splattered across store fronts, and bits of flesh and metal bolts from the explosives were strewn on the ground.

Patrons of cafes huddled indoors, behind closed doors. A young man and woman sitting in the corner of one cafe held on to each other. Teen-age girls and boys were screaming and crying into mobile phones, talking to their parents, trying to find their friends in the chaos.

Shortly after the suicide bombings, an explosion went off in a car parked near the mall, said Police Chief Mickey Levy. Apparently no one was hurt in that explosion. At the sound of the third explosion, pedestrians ran up the street in a panic.

Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said 150 people were wounded, many of people in their late teens and 20s. Among the wounded were several in very serious condition.

"This is a great catastrophe. There are many, many casualties," said Health Minister Nissim Dahan, who was touring area hospitals. "We are almost at the limit of our capacity to take in the wounded."

The Ben Yehuda mall is usually packed with young Israelis on Saturday evening. The mall has been the target of suicide attacks in the past, including in 1997.

Just up the block, on the corner of King George and Jaffa streets, a suicide bomber blew himself up last summer in a crowded pizzeria, killing himself and 15 diners.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, did not claim responsibility on behalf of the group, but said Hamas would continue carrying out attacks.

"We have said several times that we are not goint to accept the occupation to remain in our land," Rantisi said. "We are fighting Jewish terrorism, we are fighting the killers and defending our freedom, our stability and our dignity."

Saturday's bombings came only two days after an Islamic Jihad militant blew himself up on an Israeli bus, killing three passengers and himself.

The attacks also came at a time when a senior U.S. envoy, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, is trying to secure a cease-fire. However, since Zinni's arrival last week, there has been an upsurge in violence, especially by Palestinian militants trying to derail his mission. Zinni has said he would not be deterred by violence, and would stay in the region as long as it takes.

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