With two terrorist bombings within 24 hours in Jerusalem, including a massive explosion in a crowded cafeteria at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that killed at least seven and injured at least 86, Israelis braced for Palestinians terrorists to unleash a new wave of attacks.
Avi Dichter, the chief of Israel’s internal security, the Shin Bet, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that although a dozen attacks had been foiled in the last week, the Shin Bet had warnings of another 60 pending suicide bombings.
"These kind of attacks achieve nothing," Israeli government spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari said of the attack on the students. "There is no way out of the conflict through terror."
"I think pressure has to be put on the Palestinians to finally put an end to it," she said. "We need a responsible leadership."
Ben-Ari said the government is constantly trying to get information on suicide killers and dismantle terrorist groups.
"Anyone involved in terror must be brought to justice," she said. "We are trying to do 100 percent, but of course there is no such thing as terror proof."
The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas claimed responsibility for the Hebrew University attack in apparent reprisal for the killing of its military chief, Salah Shehada, in an Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip last week that also killed 14 civilians, including nine children.
A Hamas leader this week vowed to continue attacks on Israelis, dismissing calls for a cease-fire that had been proposed before the Gaza bombing by members of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat’s Tanzim militia.
"A cease-fire from the Palestinian side will only whet the appetite of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon to strike us and attack us again," Mahmoud Zhar told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel. "What point is there in a dialogue between Palestinians that is aimed only at giving the Israeli entity concessions for free?"
Officials in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said they had known of the cease-fire efforts before the bombing but dismissed them as "meaningless."
The Hebrew University bombing Wednesday came just one day after a suicide bomber from the West Bank Palestinian community of Beit Jala blew himself apart and injured five when he detonated the bomb he was carrying in downtown Jerusalem.
Authorities believe his intended target was the busy intersection of King George Street and Jaffa Road, the site of numerous previous attacks. But he was spotted by a policeman and dashed into a falafel store, where he triggered the device.
Hours earlier, two Israeli brothers selling diesel fuel to a cement factory in the Palestinian West Bank village of Jama’in were shot and killed in an ambush. Both men were from the Jewish settlement of Tapuah. The military wing of Arafat’s Fatah, the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, took responsibility for both attacks.
And in another attack on West Bank Jewish settlers this week, a Palestinian terrorist penetrated a fence surrounding the Jewish settlement of Itamar and attacked a couple as they slept. Moshe Goldsmith, a resident of the community, said the terrorist went to the second-floor bedroom of David and Orna Mimran and began stabbing David Mimran in the chest.
"He and his wife managed to get a hold of the knife and use it on the terrorist," Goldsmith said.
The terrorist was killed. David Mirman sustained moderate injuries and his wife light injuries. He said their eight children happened to be visiting their grandparents on a kibbutz in the north.
And in another attack on settlers last Friday, Palestinian gunmen ambushed two cars in the West Bank, killing one person in one car, Sgt. Elazar Leibovitz, and three in the other: Yaacov Dickstein, his wife, Hannah, and their 9-year-old son Shuvel. The Dicksteins had 10 children, six of whom were with them in the car. They were the 15th couple killed in terrorist attacks in 22 months of violence.
Estelle Rubinstein, a social worker at Hadassah Hospital who was called in to work with the surviving five children and their siblings who rushed to the hospital, said it was a "traumatic event."
"They lost their parents and they were witness to such a scene," she said.
Settlers have been a prime target of terrorists. Although they account for only 3 percent of the Israeli population, they comprise 20 percent of Israeli fatalities since the violence began in September 2000.
Responding to reports that the Palestinians were preparing for a cease-fire before the Gaza bombing occurred, Dore Gold, an advisor to Sharon, said: "We have no indication that any authoritative group was preparing to engage in a unilateral cease-fire. From our information, there were no military operatives involved in this effort. [Defense Minister Benjamin] Ben-Eliezer said there may have been political figures who spoke about it, but Hamas and Shehada were not behind it. He was planning attacks on six Israeli cities.
"So if Israel had to make a calculation of whether a real cease-fire was imminent or whether a scheduled six bombing attacks had to be disrupted, clearly Israel preferred responding to the tangible information we had rather than baseless rumors Palestinians had been trying to float," he said.
But Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations said he had spoken with some of the Palestinians involved in the initiative and believes "they want to pull it off. Whether they succeed in doing so remains to be seen."
Siegman maintained that if the Sharon government was "seriously interested in pursuing such initiatives, it would not have dropped the bomb, particularly because this initiative comes from sectors of the Palestinian population the government said it wants to replace the old guard."
Siegman added that if the Palestinians behind the initiative were sincere, he would expect them to try to press again for a cease-fire.
Rashid Khalidi, a professor of history at the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago and a former Palestinian adviser, argued that the Israeli government is not interested in a political solution.
"This government would collapse the moment there are negotiations because a precondition for negotiations is a halt to [expansion of] the settlements," he said. "And there are members of the government who live in the settlements."
"They do not want Palestinians brokering deals with Hamas to restrain itself," Khalidi said. "They want blood flowing in the streets. The idea that you can deal with terrorism by other than military means does not occur [to them]."
But Hirsh Goodman, deputy director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, pointed out that the day before the Gaza bombing, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, told Reuters that he was prepared "to consider" a cease-fire if Israel withdrew to its 1967 borders, halted targeted assassinations and released Palestinian prisoners.
"We are not going to let them determine the timing [of a cease-fire]," Goodman said. "We have had it with these guys. We don’t trust him or Arafat. It’s a viper’s nest. … You can take us for suckers once or twice, but the days of taking us are over."
And Mordechai Kedar, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, pointed out that Hamas’ charter specifically rules out any cease-fire because it calls for Israel’s destruction. He said that in the wake of the university attack, he would expect the Israeli government to go after Yassin and other political Hamas leaders.
"The Israeli government will understand that there is no possibility to fight the military faction while you leave the head of the snake," he explained.
Wednesday’s lunch-hour bombing gutted the cafeteria of the Frank Sinatra Pavilion on the university’s Mount Scopus campus. Classes had ended for the semester and students are taking exams; the cafeteria was crowded.
The pavilion, which serves as the student union building, is located next to the Rothberg International School, where about 80 students from the United States were expected to register Tuesday and Wednesday. Many foreign students, including those taking summer courses, reportedly were in the area of the cafeteria at the time of the blast. It was not initially known if they were among the casualties.
"It’s an abomination," Naomi Chazan, a Knesset member from the Meretz Party, said of the bombing. "The cycle is getting worse. It’s got to stop. We kill kids, they kill kids, whatís going on here?"
Jennie Nelson, a secretary in a nearby building at the university, said she heard the explosion, which occurred at 11:45 a.m.
"I’m so confused," she said shortly after the explosion. "I never thought it would happen here. Iím too numb to react."
She said she lives in the nearby French Hill section of Jerusalem and that there has been a number of terrorist attacks "close to home."
With new terror warnings keeping Israelis on edge, the government sought to stave off further attacks by moving to expel to the Gaza Strip a relative of a Palestinian terrorist and at the same time ease the humanitarian crisis developing in Israeli-occupied Palestinian cities.
The expulsion decision, made Wednesday by the security cabinet, involves the relative of a man who participated in the bombing and shooting attack of a public bus near the West Bank settlement of Immanuel July 16, killing seven and wounding 20.
When the expulsion idea was first broached several weeks ago, it generated international opposition. But Israel’s attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, said it would be permissible if the relative assisted in the terrorist’s actions.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said the move was "certain to kindle Palestinian anger and prompt worldwide condemnation," but that it would be more palatable if it was "done through legal proceedings."
"There is still a very strong emphasis in the security community on the need to increase deterrence by punishing family members," Steinberg said, noting that Gaza is seen as a form of exile because "they won’t be back for a long time."
Khalidi, the Chicago professor, noted that he was in Ramallah in May and found there a "large number of responsible people: intellectuals and people with influence, who are convinced that the violence is [causing] more harm to the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause than to Israel." But he predicted that "things will get worse" before the U.S. intercedes, which he said would not come until after the November elections at the earliest.
"There is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe and a total destruction of the Palestinian economy and severe damage to the Israeli economy," he predicted.
This week Israel released to the Palestinians about $17 million of $600 million it has collected for the Palestinian Authority for taxes and duties on Palestinian products. It has demanded that the money be used to help Palestinian civilians and that it not be used for terrorist activities.
Israel also increased from 7,000 to 12,000 the number of Palestinians permitted to work in Israel, and it reduced the hours Palestinian-occupied cities must remain under a curfew.
The American ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, had warned last week that Israel must take action to "prevent a humanitarian disaster." A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy said the ambassador has been working with Israeli officials to see what could be done to help the Palestinian people.