February 25, 1996
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EST (0450 GMT)
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Water Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- World leaders condemned two suicide bombings Sunday which killed 25 people and injured more than 80 in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
The militant Islamic group Hamas said it carried out the two bus bombings to avenge last month's killing of the group's master bomb maker, Yehiya Ayyash.
The first bomb ripped through a commuter bus during morning rush hour in Jerusalem, killing 23 people, including two Americans, and injuring 49. The 10-kilogram bomb was packed with nails, ball bearings and bullets that shredded human flesh and made identification of bodies extremely difficult, officials said. The bus was reduced to a charred skeleton.
Forty-five minutes later, a second bus exploded southwest of Jerusalem in Ashkelon, killing two people and injuring 31.
Two Americans killed on the Jerusalem bus were identified as Matthew Eisenfeld, 25, of Hartford, Connecticut, and his girlfriend, Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, New Jersey. Both were students in Israel.
In a call to Israel Radio, a man speaking Arabic claimed responsibility for the bombings on behalf of the Izzedine al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, which has led opposition to peace-making with Israel.
The caller said two Hamas "heroes," one with 22 pounds of TNT and the other with 11 pounds, carried out the attacks to avenge the January 5 assassination of Ayyash and commemorate the second anniversary of the Hebron mosque massacre in which a Jewish settler shot and killed 29 Muslim worshipers.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who visited the scene of the Jerusalem bombing Sunday, said Israel is "determined to fight Hamas," but vowed to continue to work towards peace with the Palestinians.(167K AIFF sound or 167K WAV sound)
Israeli Health Minister Ephraim Sneh echoed Peres, saying the Israelis would not pull back on the peace process. "The alternative to the peace process is another Bosnia in Israel, and we are not going to allow it," he said. (85K AIFF sound or 85K WAV sound)
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who thought he had persuaded Palestinian radicals to refrain from attacks on Israelis, condemned the bombings, saying they threatened the peace process.
"It's not a military operation, it's a terrorist operation. I condemn it and I condemn the power behind it," Arafat said. (221K AIFF sound or 221K WAV sound)
Arafat's statement did not prevent Peres from suspending contacts with the Palestinian Authority and sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring 60,000 Arab workers from jobs in Israel.
U.S. President Bill Clinton condemned the attack and expressed sympathy for the families of those who died in the explosion.
"These brutal acts of terror ... offend the conscience of the world," Clinton said in a statement released by the White House Sunday. "They must not only be condemned, they must be brought to an end."
Pope John Paul II said, "I express firm condemnation for the new, cruel recourse to violence."
"When you see the bodies, your own citizens lying on the ground on Sunday morning, it breaks your heart," said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who accused the suicide attackers of jeopardizing peace in the Middle East.
The scenes of blood on the streets of Jerusalem, the first such attacks there in more than four months, seemed certain to trigger renewed debate on the peace process, especially with national elections less than four months away.
In early November two car bombers targeted Israeli buses in the Gaza Strip, injuring 11 people. The bombers were killed. Five people died in Jerusalem on August 21, 1995, when a suicide bomber blew up a commuter bus. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
The suicide bomber who boarded the Jerusalem bus Sunday hid his device in an army kit bag, Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal told Reuters.
"The fact is that no one noticed anything suspicious about him," said Shahal, who is in charge of national police.
In Ashkelon, the attack was carried out by a man dressed in an Israeli army uniform who had just mingled with nearby soldiers, a local Israel television station reported. That explosion occurred near a bus stop and a soldier hitchhiking post.
The bombings sparked anger in the streets of Jerusalem and cast a pall on Peres' peace process.
"Someone has to say wait a minute. You know, maybe we made a mistake and we don't have to live like this," said one Israeli. "No people in the world would live like this." (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)
Some blamed the bombings on Israeli officials, who had received warnings that militants were planning suicide attacks to avenge Ayyash. Ayyash had orchestrated at least seven suicide bombings, which killed 55 people over the past two years.
Funerals for the victims began just hours after the bus bombings occurred. Mourners lit candles in the middle of the street near the wreckage of bus No. 18, which was filled with riders on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem.
AP and Reuters news services contributed to this report.
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AP and Reuters news services contributed to this report.Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.