Gavriel Biton, 35, a father of six, and Miriam Amitai, 36, a
mother of four, were killed when a heavy-caliber (120 mm.)
mortar shell attached to a detonator and planted about 20
meters from the road, was activated by three terrorists
against a packed school bus. Nine were wounded including 5
of the 30 children who were on the bus. Three of the
seriously wounded were siblings aged 7, 8 and 12. Israeli
government leaders said that the "tracks" of the attack led
clearly to official institutions of the Palestinian
The three terrorists, said to be from the Fatah Tanzim, were
hiding in Area A and fled further in. Area A is under full
Palestinian control. The shell had been surrounded by pieces
of metal to inflict as many injuries as possible.
Yehuda Danino, 41, the driver of the Gaza Coast Regional
Council school bus which was armored against bullets but not
against heavier attacks, managed to keep the bus moving till
it reached an IDF post some 500 meters away from the blast.
Danino was among the injured.
In response to the attack, hundreds of settlers from Judea,
Samaria, and the Gaza Strip took to the roads throughout the
day, calling on the government to allow the army to operate
without restraint. Monday night in Jerusalem thousands
protested outside the prime minister's residence, blocking
the surrounding streets. Though the actions of the Right
have been relatively restrained in the weeks since the start
of the Palestinian violence, the barbarous attack on the
children seemed to have crossed a threshold.
Also in response to the attack, Israeli Air force
helicopters and navy gunboats attacked Palestinian Authority
targets in the Gaza Strip for some two hours Monday night.
Unlike other retaliatory raids since the beginning of the
violence some seven weeks ago, this one was not preceded by
a warning to the Palestinians. Palestine Radio reported some
50 wounded in the attacks. The air force and navy hit
targets in Rafah, Khan Yunis, Beit Lahiya, and the Jabalya
Barak convened an emergency session of the security cabinet
early Monday afternoon, at which a number of steps --
including Monday night's attacks -- were decided upon.
Other steps included tightening the military grip around
Palestinian cities, mostly in Gaza; stepping up economic
measures against the PA; and launching a public relations
campaign aimed at placing the blame for the breakdown of the
Oslo process at the Palestinian doorstep.
Among the economic measures agreed upon were tightening the
closure of the Palestinian areas; limiting the transfer of
gas and other materials, such as cement; restricting the
movements of Palestinain VIPs; and holding up funds that are
meant to be transferred to the PA.
The steps were approved by four of the security cabinet's
seven ministers: Barak, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami,
Finance Minister Avraham Shochat, and Communications
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin
opposed, and Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres and
Transportation Minister Amnon Lipkin Shahak abstained.
Army officers noted the injuries could have been far worse
had the bus not been bulletproofed. "The size of the shell
[120 mm] and the explosives packed into it have what we call
a killing capacity of a 50-meter radius," said one
Two sisters and a brother of the Cohen family -- Orit, 12,
Tehila, eight, and Yisrael, seven -- were seriously wounded
in the attack. All three had limbs amputated and were in
intensive care. They had been injured in a bomb about two
years ago. Liora Eltar, 34, underwent surgery on her leg;
Rahel Asraf, 34, who is pregnant, was lightly injured;
Mataniya Daifani, 12, was lightly wounded. His mother,
Nurit, 39, was in the plastic surgery department. Rachel
Hadad, eight, and driver Danino, 41, were treated and
Speaking to reporters on Monday at the site of the attack,
Gaza regional commander Lt.-Col. Yair Naveh said, "Today we
opened the road to Palestinian traffic thinking the
situation had calmed down . . . but we are in the midst of
war and the terrorists purposely chose a soft target.
Today's attack is a continuation of shooting incidents in
the region last night [Sunday] and the terror attack in Kfar
Darom's hothouses on Saturday."
Three terrorists detonated the bomb and fled to Area A, he
said. Naveh noted that the three had hidden behind palm
trees in a field a few hundred meters from the roadside to
detonate the bomb. Shortly after the attack, army bulldozers
uprooted the trees and tore down some buildings.
In addition, the army blocked the Kisufim-Gush Katif Road
connecting the northern and southern parts of the Gaza
Strip, thereby preventing thousands of Palestinians from the
south who work or study in the north from getting home. The
IDF is considering blocking another major artery in Gaza,
the Karni-Netzarim Road, to Palestinian traffic as well.
On Tuesday, parents from Gush Katif settlements decided to
keep their children home from school according to an Israel
Radio report. This is because they do not have armored buses
to transport them. The parents refused an IDF offer to
provide the children with fortified army vehicles.
At a stormy deliberation in the Knesset on Monday (22
Cheshvan) in the wake of the terrorist attack in Gush Katif,
Rabbi Moshe Gafni said: "When such terrible calamities
befall the Jewish Nation, all of us must search our deeds
and take stock of our ways." In this context Rabbi Gafni
mentioned the plans for the secular revolution and the
incitement against yeshiva students, including the
incitement against lomdei haTorah during the
deliberations about the passage of the draft deferral Law
for yeshiva students. "All of us must pray to Hakodosh
Boruch Hu, to bring an end to our woes," he cried
Rabbi Meir Porush, who also spoke, said: "All of us must cry
out: save us. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is sending us
decrees, difficult gezeiros, and these decrees hurt
us. He is sending them because we are not pursuing His path,
the path of Torah and mitzvos. Everything is hefker.
Jewish blood is free for all. Every Jew is in danger. Jews
are being killed here only because they are Jews."
The bomb attack came after a midnight phone call between
Barak and Arafat Sunday night, meant to calm the situation.
Arafat was scheduled to go to Egypt Tuesday to meet with
President Hosni Mubarak, who spoke by phone Monday night
with former president Ezer Weizman who reportedly told him
that Arafat can and must control the violence.
Israel laid the blame for the attack squarely at Arafat's
feet. "The government of Israel sees the PA as responsible
for the murderous attack this morning," the Prime Minister's
Office said in a statement issued soon after the attack.
Those who carried out the attack are Fatah Tanzim, the
statement said, who are under PA authority.
Barak later said that nine targets were hit in the IAF and
navy raids, including headquarters, buildings, and training
bases belonging to Fatah, the Tanzim, and Force 17, Arafat's
personal bodyguard. A command post belonging to Mohammed
Dahlan's Preventive Security Service was also hit, as were
communications relay stations.
The PA denied any involvement in the morning attack. It
issued a statement saying that the PA had no involvement in
the attack, which was carried out in an area under Israeli
control. The statement promised to investigate the incident,
but did not condemn the attack.
The White House, meanwhile, called for "clear and
unambiguous" condemnations of the school-bus attack, and --
also called on the PA to arrest the perpetrators.
In Tel Aviv, about a dozen protesters gathered outside the
Defense Ministry Monday afternoon, most of them left-wingers
demanding that the IDF leave the territories. "Our children
have no reason to be in these places," said Yona Rochlein,
who organized the left-wing protest. If Jews want to live in
Gaza, then they should depend on the Tanzim and not the IDF
to defend them, she said.
It was 13-year-old Shulamit Leisha's sign that made the
strongest impression on many: "They've killed my mother," it
read. Her mother, Sarah Leisha, from the settlement of Neveh
Tzuf, was gunned down by Palestinian terrorists in the West
Bank nine days ago. "I want to say that these people who are
calling for restraint are the same ones who gave the
Palestinians guns, which helped the Arabs kill my mother. I
want to cry out that all of Israel will hear, and
Her family, who have just completed their mourning period,
have temporarily relocated themselves to the protest tent
opposite the prime minister's residence. They said that
Sarah, Hy'D, had planned to protest at that tent.