Less than two hours before the 17th Knesset was sworn in
on Monday afternoon, terror struck in southern Tel Aviv as a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd at the entrance to a fast food stand, killing nine people and wounding close to 70 others.
claimed responsibility for the bombing that ripped through the Rosh Ha'ir shwarma stand on Rehov Salome in the southern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neveh Sha'anan, not far from the old Tel Aviv central bus station. The same restaurant
was hit in a similar suicide attack three months ago, injuring 20 people.
Four of the victims were women, and five were men. Seven names have been released: Philip Balahsan, 45, from Ashdod, a father of two children who were wounded as well; Victor Erez
, 60, from Givatayim; the restaurant's security guard Binyamin Hafuta, 47, from Lod; Ariel Darhi from Bat Yam; Lili Yunis, 42, from Oranit; David Shmuelov, 28, from Holon; Piroshka Boda, 50, and Rosalia Basalia, 48, both Romanian citizens;.
Erez's funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday at the Yarkon cemetery. Shmuelov's funeral was also scheduled for the same time in Holon.
Thirty-six of the victims remained hospitalized overnight at Ichilov, Sheba and Wolfson Hospitals, and at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. The wounded included two children, a 60-year-old French tourist, and a 16-year-old American tourist who was listed in critical condition. Nine victims were listed in serious condition, 16 moderate and the rest in light condition.
The suicide bomber was identified by Israeli sources as Sami Hamad from the village of al-Gharakah, near Jenin. Media reports listed his age as 16, but his family said he was 21.
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at a harsh Israeli response following a consultation with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, "We will know how to respond, and will continue to act with all the means at our disposal to prevent further terror attempts," he said.
On Tuesday, Mofaz will meet again with Olmert to formulate an Israeli response to the attack. Security officials said Monday night that the recommendations would focus on targeting the Islamic Jihad, sealing off Samaria from the rest of the West Bank and cracking down on Palestinians illegally residing in Israel.
"Don't expect to see tanks rolling into Nablus," one official said. "But we will launch more widespread operations against the Islamic Jihad."
Moments after the attack, the first successful suicide bombing since Hamas took over the Palestinian government some three weeks ago, IDF forces entered Nablus, Islamic Jihad's base of operations, and began rounding up terror suspects. Palestinians said that six people were wounded after troops opened fire at a crowd.
The Tel Aviv attack occurred at about 1:30 PM after Hamad, according to eyewitness accounts, tried entering the restaurant but detonated his explosive device after he was stopped for inspection by a security guard stationed at the door.
"I saw people fly up in the air," said Chaya, a local vendor. "I also witnessed the previous attack, but this one was far stronger."
Moments after the bombing, which caused extensive damage to the restaurant and surrounding stores, police forces launched a hunt after a car seen fleeing the scene and suspected of transporting the bomber to the target. A silver Mercedes was later caught on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway following a dramatic chase that required closing down the main artery. Three people suspected of involvement in the attack were detained for questioning.
Police said the combination of a large explosive device, estimated to weigh at least 10 kilograms, and a packed street caused the serious damage and the large number of dead and wounded.
Speaking from the scene of the attack, Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi told reporters that while security forces had been on high alert, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had not registered a specific terror threat focused on the Neveh Sha'anan neighborhood.
"Only after we conclude our investigation will we be able to know whether or not it was possible to prevent this bombing," Karadi said.
Police said that Neveh Sha'anan, mainly home to foreign workers and Palestinians working illegally in Israel, was most likely chosen for the attack since it was a densely populated area with heavy pedestrian traffic.
"This is a strategic area, which is very sensitive and problematic," said Lt.-Cmdr. Daniel Chen, deputy chief of the Tel Aviv police, who also arrived at the bomb site. "This is a place that is known as a center for Palestinians who have entered Israel illegally and we have arrested many of them here."
Chen added that holidays were prone to be target times. The explosion, he said, appeared to be more powerful than the previous explosion that had taken place at the same site.
Islamic Jihad has been behind the past seven suicide bombings in Israel and Hamad said in his farewell video that he carried out the bombing as a gesture for thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Monday was marked as Prisoners Day in the Palestinian areas.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack. "These kinds of attacks harm the Palestinian interest and we as an authority and government must move to stop it," he said. "We will not stop pursuing anyone who carries out such attacks."
The new Hamas-led PA government, however, called the suicide bombing a legitimate response to Israeli aggression. "We think that this operation...is a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people," said Khaled Abu Helal, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
After learning of the bombing, the Hamads began moving furniture and belongings out of their home for fear it would be demolished by the IDF. The mother, Samiya Hamad said there had been no warning signs that her son was getting involved with a terrorist group.
The wounded were evacuated to Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer, Wolfson Hospital, Holon and The Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva.
At Ichilov Hospital, approximately three and a half hours after the bombing, emergency room director Dr. Piny Halprin said the hospital had taken in 40 victims of the attack, two of whom died despite resuscitation efforts. Of the five victims who had sustained severe injuries, two were in life-threatening condition. The injuries suffered by an additional ten victims hospitalized at Ichilov were defined as "medium," while the rest of the victims suffered from injuries defined as "light." Halprin said that nine operations were taking place simultaneously at the hospital to treat stomach, chest and orthopedic injuries.
MDA, which has been suffering from a blood shortage due to people being on vacation during the Pessah holiday, has asked the public to donate blood, especially type O. Blood can be donated at the Central Blood Services Center at Tel Hashomer, in Jerusalem, Acre and many shopping malls throughout the country. Details can be obtained by calling 03-5300400 or from MDA's Web site at http://www.mda.org.il/
Emergency phone information lines about the wounded were set up at Ichilov Hospital (1255133); Sheba Hospital (1255131); Wolfson Hospital (1255135) and the Rabin Medical Center (1255134).
Herb Keinon, Judy Siegel and AP contributed to the report.
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