Ha’aretz Daily on Wednesday, March 05, 2003
By Amos Harel and Haim Shadmi, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and Agencies A powerful explosion ripped apart an Egged bus Wednesday afternoon in Haifa’s Carmeliya neighborhood, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 40, at least 10 of them seriously. Police said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber sitting at the rear of the bus.
The blast, which took place on the city’s main Moriah Boulevard near the Carmel Center at 2:17 P.M., turned the number 37 bus into a charred wreck and scattered bodies along the road. Because of the hour, the bus would have been packed with students from the nearby University of Haifa, officials said.
Channel One reported that police estimated the bomber was wearing an explosive belt weighing around 50 kilograms.
Northern District Commander Yaakov Borovsky estimated that the bomber did not get on the bus at the last possible stop before the blast. Police are also trying to find out who transported the bomber to the location of the attack, and said that there had not been any specific warnings of an attack in the Haifa area.
Israel Radio reported that police were also probing the possibility that the blast was caused by an explosive device that had been left on the bus, rather than a suicide bomber.
Palestinian security sources said that the bomber had likely come from the West Bank city of Jenin, the Itim news agency reported. As a result, Itim said, the IDF had sealed off Jenin and the nearby village of Qabatiyah.
The blast follows a two-month lull in Palestinian suicide bombings. The last such attack took place in January when 23 people were killed in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood in Tel Aviv in a dual suicide bombing.
But security officials had warned in recent days that they faced 50 active warnings of planned and impending attacks. Security sources said that more than 40 attacks had been foiled during the month of February alone.
‘The center of the bus lifted up into the air’ One eyewitness said that, “The center of the bus lifted up into the air, the roof was torn off. It looked like a blast inside the bus, and within seconds people began taking the wounded out of the bus.”
“I saw people dying, being burned to death,” one distraught witness told Channel One television.
“The scenes are horrific here, twisted metal, it is very difficult to look at,” another witness said.
The explosion toppled some palm trees and left the bus a skeleton of charred and twisted metal. Cars that were parked nearby were also damaged in the blast, and some passers-by were among the wounded.
The driver of the bus, Marwan Damouni, told Army Radio that the explosion went off as he stopped at a station and opened the doors to let passengers off. “I suddenly heard an explosion… I tried to move, to see if there were wounded… I couldn’t hear anything because of the force of the blast,” said Damouni, who was being treated at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa.
Hamas lauds attack; PMO blames Arafat Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a spokesman for Hamas who is based in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility. “We will not stop our resistance,” he said. “We are not going to give up in the face of the daily killing” of Palestinians.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that it held Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat responsible for the attack, which comes only days after the establishment of a new rightist government under Ariel Sharon.
David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, told Haaretz that, “The attack in Haifa is yet another Palestinian bloodletting of innocent Israeli civilians. Israel will not tolerate this terror, and will continue to take the necessary steps to eradicate it.”
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned “any attack that is targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli.” But he added: “We reject the Israel government finger-pointing that the Palestinian Authority is responsible.”
United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen condemned the attack as “a horrible act of terrorism.” He told Israel Radio that the only way to characterize the attack was as “a cynical act of pre-mediated murder and nothing else,” which served “no political purpose.”
Haifa municipal hotlines for emergency information: 121-24-66-106 121-24-66-107
Foreign language hotline for immigrants: 1255-08-10-10
Hospitals: Carmel Medical Center 12-55-142 Rambam Medical Center 12-55-144 Bnei Tzion Medical Center (Rothschild) 12-55-145