Palestinians Show Iraq Support With Bombing


Palestinian support for Iraq took on a new dimension this
week with a suicide bombing in Israel that Islamic Jihad said was aimed at
showing solidarity with Baghdad.

Dozens of people were wounded, six seriously, when a suicide
bomber blew himself up March 30 next to a crowded restaurant in the coastal
city of Netanya. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and identified the bomber
as a resident of Tulkarm.

The group’s secretary, Ramadan Shalakh, said the attack
commemorated Land Day, which itself marks the deaths of six Israeli Arabs
during protests in 1976 against state confiscation of Arab lands in the
Galilee. Shalakh also said the bombing was a show of solidarity with the Iraqi
people.

Israeli security officials have warned that the U.S-led
military campaign in Iraq could prompt a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Solidarity with Iraq was a prominent theme in March 30 Land Day demonstrations.

Large numbers of police were stationed around Arab
population centers in northern Israel but were instructed to keep a low
profile. The Israeli Arab leadership had called for peaceful demonstrations,
and there were no violent incidents.

The March 30 bombing was the first in Israel since a March 5
suicide bus bombing in Haifa that killed 17 people. The attack came as Israel
continued to closely monitor the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq to
determine whether to alter the level of civil alert in the country.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet March
30 that the army would begin to reduce the number of reserve soldiers who had
been mobilized. Mofaz said this included reducing the number of reservists
stationed at gas mask distribution centers, because most Israelis had already
refreshed or replaced their kits.

At the same time, Mofaz said an Iraqi attack on Israel was
still possible, and Israelis should continue to carry their gas masks with them
and maintain sealed rooms.

For Israelis wondering about when the civil alert for Iraq
may be lowered, the attack in Netanya was a reminder of the ongoing security
threats close to home. The attack occurred around 1 p.m., when a suicide bomber
blew himself up on a pedestrian mall near the entrance to a restaurant that was
crowded with diners.

According to reports, the terrorist was prevented from
entering the London Cafe by a group of soldiers who were assigned to a security
detail in the area. One of the soldiers who approached the bomber was very
seriously wounded in the explosion, the daily Yediot Achronot reported.

One witness, Amos Harel, said he caught a passing glance of
the terrorist before the explosion, but there was nothing that raised his
concern.

“I saw the terrorist, but not with focus. He didn’t look
suspicious,” Harel told Israel Radio. “Apparently when he saw the soldiers
passing by, he decided to blow himself up.”

Another Netanya resident, Ilana, told Israel Radio that she
heard the explosion and went running to the scene, knowing that her sister was
eating there.

“There were people lying on the ground, lots of flesh
everywhere,” she said. “This is the fifth attack I’ve seen. Every terrorist
attack is more painful and more frightening, and we wait for the next one.”

Among the 50 wounded were 10 Israeli soldiers. One person
sustained very serious wounds; five others were listed in serious condition.
Police said the casualties were not as large as they could have been, because
the bomb used in the attack was relatively small and because the terrorist was
not able to get into the restaurant.

Israeli police, border police and troops were out in heavy
force the day of the bombing, as part of the deployment for Land Day, as well
as the civil defense alert because of Iraq. Police Commissioner Shlomo
Aharonishky said that preventing terrorist attacks is difficult, despite
intense efforts by security forces to thwart attacks.

“There is motivation and desire to carry out attacks,” he
said. The public “should be ready for additional attacks.”  

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