Israel: response will be harsh
JPost - Reg req'd
Israeli government sources said Israel's response to the suicide bombing at Haifa's Maxim restaurant on Saturday afternoon would be "harsh." A female suicide bomber exploded in Haifa's 'Makom Maxim' restaurant at about 2:15pm Saturday killing nineteen [20 now] people and injuring sixty. Nine people were seriously injured, two were moderately injured and the rest lightly injured, a spokesman from Magen David Adom said. Five of the dead are children.

The bombing came on the Sabbath before Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. All Yom Kippur holidays for Police personnel have been cancelled. The deadliness of the attack raises the possibility that Israel could take action against Arafat, whom the Israeli Cabinet has threatened to "remove," implying either expulsion or assassination, without saying when it would take action. After the Sept. 11 decision, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suggested action would be taken against Arafat if there was another major suicide bombing with heavy casualties. Sharon called his advisers for an emergency meeting Saturday evening to weigh a response, and Israel Radio quoted the army chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, as saying there would be a "harsh" response to the bombing this night. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz will convene a meeting with top security officials Saturday night at his headquarters in Tel Aviv following the Haifa attack.

Israel's ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon, spoke Saturday with senior Bush administration officials who indicated their position regarding Arafat "has not changed." Ayalon said that Israel has not ruled any action out, and that it was clear that Arafat's "removal," - whether physical or political - would be necessary.

Police have confirmed that the bomber, a female, managed to get past the security guard and detonated her explosives belt, which was packed with nails, bolts and metal shards, in the center of the restaurant. The Jerusalem Brigades of the Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the Haifa suicide bombing. The group said the suicide bomber was a 20-year-old woman from the West Bank town of Jenin, identified as Hanadi Jaradat. According to reports, Jaradat's brother Fahdi, an Islamic Jihad terrorist, and their cousin Salah were killed by IDF troops three months ago in a counter-terror operation in Jenin. A leader of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad said Saturday that the bombing was "a natural Palestinian response to the daily crimes carried out by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinians."

The blast blew out windows, and others were pockmarked by shrapnel. Walls inside were riddled with holes, wires hung down from the ceiling and clusters of pipes were exposed. Chunks were blown off pillars throughout the restaurant. 'Makom Maxim' is located at a central junction on Hahaganah Blvd. near the southern entrance to the city close to the beachfront promenade. An eyewitness at the scene described the carnage: "everything flew, inside was a catastrophe, bodies, pieces of bodies... there were dead children and babies..." A motorist, identified only as Navon, said he was at the junction when he heard the blast, and rushed to the scene where he saw smoke and blown-out windows. "There were not a lot of wounded, just a lot of people strewn on the ground. There was nothing to do, no way to help them," he said, adding that several children were among the dead. Police said the bomb used in the attack was the biggest ever used by terrorists in Haifa, and was similar in size to the one used in the Park Hotel in Netanya on the eve of Pessah 2002, in which 29 people were murdered and 60 wounded.

The popular jointly Arab-Israeli owned restaurant, 'Makom Maxim' (translates to 'Excellent Place') situated near a major junction at the southern entrance to Haifa, was packed with weekend patrons, including entire families. Police said there was no gunfire preceding the attack, as previously reported. A security guard was working on the premises. Reports first indicated that shots were fired at the guard to neutralise him, after which the terrorist entered the restaurant. Police are investigating how the bomber managed to cross into Israel and from where. It is thought the bomber apparently entered Israel between the towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, which is inside Israel, and Baka al-Sharkiyeh, in the West Bank, in an area in which the separation fence has not yet been completed. In addition Police are investigating how the terrorist managed to get past the security guard. Many male security guards in Israel are reluctant to check female customers for fear of harrassment charges. A person dressed in the reflective vest commonly worn by security guards was seen lying face down on the front steps of the Maxim Restaurant.

Relatives, who knew for certain that there loved ones were inside the restaurant, arrived at the scene and tried to break through the cordon Police had erected around the site. Tragic scenes followed as distraught relatives struggled to get past police. According to reports, the General Security Service (Shabak) received an imminent terror attack warning moments before the Haifa blast, and was in the process of informing the Police when the attack took place. Security forces are searching for whoever brought the suicide bomber to the restaurant. The restaurant shares a wall with a petrol station. Police said a much larger tragedy could have occurred had the fuel deposits been hit.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat condemned the attack. "These kind of incidents play into Israel's hands and gives Israel the excuse to go against international resolutions," an official Palestinian Authority statement said.
The PLO's Central Committee is in session in Ramallah and according to reports has called on the US administration to apply pressure on Israel not to take action against Yasser Arafat. Palestinian prime minister-designate Ahmed Qurei also condemned the attack. Israel Radio reported that sources close to Yasser Arafat are worried Israel will "remove" the Palestinian Authority Chairman. Force 17 (Arafat's personal guard) have positioned themselves around Arafat's Mukata compound in Ramallah on the West Bank. Channel 1 reported that IDF troops are in the area.

Israel's Police have raised the alert throughout the country, and especially in the capital over fears of further attacks. Thousands of police officers are patrolling the country's streets. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon meets with top army and Shabak officers at his headquarters Saturday evening for a situation assessment. It is unclear when the security cabinet will meet, but a strong Israeli reaction is expected. Danny Naveh, Minister of Health said inresponse to the attack, "Palestinian government may change but terror does not. We should use this opportunity to get rid of Arafat."

"There were no specific warnings," said northern police chief Nitzav Yaacov Borotsky, "but the potential for attacks is always there." The security establishment says it has registered 35 terror attack warnings per day. The attack came despite a blanket closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown Sunday and ends at sundown Monday. Such closures are generally imposed during Jewish holidays because of increased concerns about terror attacks. The recent relative quiet has been attributed to pressure from Yasser Arafat after Israel announced that it intends to remove him as an obstacle to peace. It is widely believed that a major attack with many casualties could trigger measures against Arafat. David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, said Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority take immediate steps against militant groups. "The bombing in Haifa is another indication that the Palestinian Authority continues to refuse to take even minimal steps against the terrorist infrastructure," he said.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav arrived at the scene of the attack and said that the terrorists were trying to sever the close relationship between Arabs and Jews in Haifa. Yahav said that the attack was carried out and planned by people "without a God, by unholy people." The mayor also called on Haifa residents to act in a responsible manner. Among the wounded were several members of the Maccabi Haifa football club. The players and staff traditionally meet at the restaurant every Saturday . General Manager Itamar Chizik, technical manager Arieh Burstein and team coach Ronni Levi were in the at the time of the blast and lightly wounded, team captain Arik Benado said. According to Benado, other players were expected to be at the restaurant but had not yet arrived when the explosion took place.

The attack came after Hamas declared that a series of fences, razor wire and trenches Israel is building around the West Bank would not stop suicide bombers from reaching Israeli cities. The terrorist group also said it would continue to send Palestinians to blow themselves up inside Israel. "This wall will not protect the Zionist entity and will not stop the attacks of resistance and, God willing, the day will come when this wall will collapse as the Berlin wall collapsed," said a statement, signed by Hamas, posted on a pro-Hamas Web site late Friday night.
Posted by: Frank G 2003-10-04