Passengers escape Bat Yam bus shortly before bomb explodes

Tragedy prevented by vigilant citizens, police call for extra caution; Hamas, Islamic Jihad "welcome" but don’t claim terror attack.

cops on scene 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
cops on scene 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Disaster was narrowly averted in Bat Yam on Sunday, when a bomb detonated in the back of a bus in the city, shortly after over a dozen passengers were evacuated after it was spotted.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad “welcomed” the terror attack, but did not claim responsibility for the bombing, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
In an official press release issued by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, the organization welcomed the attack, that was a “response to the crimes of the occupation.”
An Islamic Jihad source said he hoped this attack “could usher the resumption of suicide attacks.”
The attack was “a sign that the Palestinian people no longer accept that Israeli attacks [against the Palestinians] continue without any real response,” the source told Ma’an.
It was the resistance’s duty to protect the Palestinian people from “Israel’s crimes, US support for the occupation and Arab impotence,” that were continuing under the cover of peace talks, he added.
Police are saying that while they are not yet sure if the motive was criminal or nationalistic, they are suspecting a terror attack.
Like in many past bombings in Israel, tragedy was prevented by the actions of everyday citizens, who helped clear other passengers away from the blast.
Passenger David Pappo described, in a shaky voice on Sunday afternoon, how he was on the bus when he heard a young boy mention a bag sitting near him unattended.
Pappo said he alerted the bus driver, who asked whose bag it was, but received no answer.
Pappo said he then opened the bag – which he described as large and black, with two handles – and found what he said looked like a pressure cooker with a red wire coming out of it. He said he started telling people to get off the bus, and when the driver stopped people started filing off.
Pappo said the bus driver appeared scared, and he told him “don’t worry, God is with us.”
He added “so this was my luck today, fine. What’s the saying, a man can earn his next life with one good deed?”
Like Pappo, the driver, Michael Yuger, refused to see his actions as extraordinary. He said he simply asked passengers if the bag belonged to anyone, arrived at a bus stop and told everyone to get off the bus.
Cmdr. Natan Bozna, head of the Ayalon subdistrict of the Israel Police, said that at 2:20 p.m. police received a call about a bomb on a bus in Bat Yam.
He said that two minutes later, a pair of patrol officers arrived. They started helping people get off the bus and away from the scene, but within minutes there was a powerful blast. Bozna said that a patrolwoman was lightly wounded in the blast, with light injuries to her ears caused by the sound of the explosion.
Bozna, as well as Bat Yam Mayor Shalom Lahyani, called on the public to increase their awareness on all buses, malls, trains and all other places where there are crowds.
Bozna, the former head of the police’s bomb squad unit, said that the bomb was medium-sized, but would not reveal further details about the make-up of the device.
Most of the windows were blown out of the bus, but it wasn’t a charred skeleton like in more powerful blasts of Israel’s past.
He added that police had not received any prior warning that security officials were expecting a terror attack in the area.
In wake of the bus blast, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino ordered an increase in police presence in public places across the country. He called for public to increase awareness and notify the police of any suspicious packages.
“The incident in Bat Yam shows the threat of terror is always in the background, and in particular, in times like now, when there is an attempt to advance the peace process,” Danino said.
The blast was the first terrorist bombing in Israel since the November 21, 2012 bus bomb in Tel Aviv during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip. That blast left dozens of people wounded, including three seriously.