Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Cheshvan 5761 - November 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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2 Killed and 9 Wounded in School Bus Attack; IDF Strikes in Gaza
by Yated Ne'eman Staff and M. Plaut

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 Authority.

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 refugee camp.

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 officer.

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 released.

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 out.

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 protest."

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.


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