September 11, 2003
Bombings Damage Peace Plan Further
Israel had feared an outbreak of terror attacks this week after its failed airstrike against the founder of Hamas and the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
The fears soon came true.
Two suicide bombings struck the Jewish State Tuesday, killing at least 15 victims and wounding dozens. The two attacks left the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan in tatters and marked a new surge of deadly violence in the nearly 3-year-old intifada.
Also this week, Ahmed Karia accepted a nomination to replace Abbas.
A suicide bomb attack at a crowded Jerusalem cafe on Tuesday night claimed at least eight lives, including the bomber, and wounded dozens. Tuesday night's bombing, which wounded dozens, occurred at the Cafe Hillel in a trendy neighborhood of Jerusalem.
A security guard at Cafe Hillel, a popular hangout for young people in Jerusalem's German Colony, tried to stop the bomber from going inside, police said, but the bomber managed to push his way in. That attack came just hours after another suicide bomber killed at least seven Israelis and wounding 15 others at a bus stop near the Tzrifin military base near Rishon LeZion.
Hamas praised both attacks.
Israel reacted to the attacks with a retaliatory strike of its own Wednesday, killing three people. A Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, who was the target of the strike in the Gaza Strip, escaped with light injuries. But his son, another family member and a bodyguard were killed, and his wife and daughter injured.
Also Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cut short his visit to India and returned to Israel to discuss other possible responses to the bombings.
The attack at the base drew pronounced U.S. condemnation.
"We certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific act of terrorism today," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "This underscores the urgency with which the Palestinian Authority needs to take immediate and effective steps to dismantle and disarm the terrorist capabilities of organizations that take innocent lives in order to prevent the peace process from going forward."
Israel's airstrike Saturday in Gaza lightly wounded Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the blind, paraplegic cleric who founded Hamas, along with 15 others. Yassin was meeting with other Hamas leaders in an apartment building.
"It's us or them," Sharon told Israel's daily Yediot Achronot over the weekend, referring to the leaders of Hamas. "They are dead men. We won't give them any rest since they have just one goal, our destruction."
Karia condemned the suicide attacks.
"Such an act stresses once again [the need for] ways to end this killing," Karia said, speaking before the attack in Jerusalem. Karia said he regretted that innocent lives are lost "as a result of violence and counterviolence."
Karia, considered a pragmatist, is a veteran of the PLO and one of the architects of the Oslo accords. During the past decade, he has served in several positions in the Palestinian Authority. Most recently, he was speaker of the Palestinian legislative council.
On Tuesday, Karia told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz that in order for him to be successful as prime minister, Israel must halt its assassinations of Palestinian terrorists, freeze settlements in the West Bank and end its isolation of Arafat.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would not cooperate with a prime minister who followed Arafat's orders and refused to crack down on the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.
Tuesday's terrorist attacks highlighted what that infrastructure can achieve.
"To see all these cars ground to a halt, and the helicopters in the air, the dozens of police cars and ambulances is to remember that we have a crying need for an unrelenting effort to stop this war," said Stephen P. Cohen of the Israel Policy Forum, who was in the Rishon LeZion area when the bombing occurred. "There could be no better use of the president's time and efforts."
If Karia is to succeed, he will have to navigate the political waters better than Abbas. In his short-lived tenure as prime minister, Abbas repeatedly clashed with Arafat over Palestinian Authority policy, particularly regarding control of the Palestinian security services. But in his resignation speech before Palestinian lawmakers, Abbas placed the blame on Israel and the United States for undermining his government.
"The fundamental problem was Israel's unwillingness to implement its commitments in the road map," he said. He also indirectly criticized Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, emphasizing "harsh and dangerous domestic incitement against his government."
After Abbas' resignation, members of Sharon's Cabinet repeated their calls for harsh measures against Arafat for undermining peace efforts. Some ministers called for exiling Arafat.
Israel and the United States accuse Arafat of supporting terrorist attacks and of blocking Abbas' efforts to implement the road map. Israeli officials have even suggested that Arafat be killed. Palestinians warn that any successor to Arafat in the West Bank and Gaza would be marked from the outset as an Israeli patsy and that exile would amplify Arafat's power.