Palestinian wanted by Israel found dead in Bulgaria


A Palestinian terrorist who escaped prison in Israel was found dead at the Palestinian mission in Bulgaria, where he was living to avoid extradition.

The body of Omar Nayef Zayed was found on Friday in the garden of the Palestinian Authority’s mission in Sofia, the Sofia Globe reported.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine published a statement accusing Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence and special operations organization of killing Zayed, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also said Zayed was assassinated and that his death will be the subject of an investigation, though he did not name Israel as responsible.

According to the Bulgarian National Television, Zayed, 52, had fallen from one of the floors of the embassy building.

Zayed, who was born in Jenin, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1986 for the murder of a Jewish yeshiva student in the Old City of Jerusalem. But he escaped while in the hospital in 1990 and settled in Bulgaria, where he was later granted permanent residence. His spouse and children, all three of whom were born in Bulgaria, have Bulgarian citizenship, The Globe reported.

Israel requested his extradition from Bulgaria in December, nrg reported. He moved into the Palestinian mission’s  compound while his lawyers were fighting the extradition request.

The news of Zayed’s death came during the visit to Israel of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev and Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov. Borissov met with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Thursday.

Bulgaria names suspected Burgas suicide bomber


Bulgaria has identified a dual Lebanese-French citizen as the alleged culprit in the suicide bombing of a bus containing Israeli tourists two years ago.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office and the national security agency said Friday in a joint statement Friday that the alleged bomber was 23-year-old Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, who was born in Lebanon, the Associated Press reported.

“The offender, who was using a fake driver’s license in the name of Jacque Felipe Martin, was indeed Mohamad Hassan El Husseini,” the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security and the country’s Prosecutor’s Office said in a joint press release.

Husseini had two suspected accomplices in the attack, also of Lebanese origin, who remain at large. Bulgarian prosecutors have named the two suspects as Meliad Farah, 32, an Australian citizen, and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 25, a Canadian citizen.

“Identity was categorically established after performing the DNA expertise and numerous other investigative procedures,” it said.

Investigators also discovered that Husseini’s friends and relatives have published on social networks eulogies of his death as a “martyr,” the press release said.

“The investigation continues,” the press release added.

The July 2012 explosion outside an airport on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast killed five Israeli tourists, the Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber. Thirty-five people were wounded.

Last year Bulgaria accused the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah of mounting the attack.

Following the attack, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group.

Bulgarian police ID tour bus attacker through DNA


Bulgarian police identified a Lebanese-Canadian man as the bomber of an Israeli tour bus.

The identification came from DNA evidence connected to the July 2012 attack at the Burgas airport on a bus full of Israeli tourists. Five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed.

The DNA belongs to Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a Lebanon-born Canadian citizen who arrived in Bulgaria at the end of June 2012, the Sofia News Agency reported. The evidence came from a baseball cap found in his room at a hotel in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Nesebar. He is believed to have detonated the bomb in the backpack of the suicide bomber on the bus.

Israel has blamed the Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah and Iran for the attack.

Bulgaria confirms new evidence pointing to Hezbollah in Burgas attack


Bulgaria’s interior minister confirmed that his country has new evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for the deadly 2012 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists on Bulgarian soil.

Tsvetlin Yovchev said during a news briefing Wednesday, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the attack in Burgas, that the additional evidence makes it clear that Hezbollah masterminded the attack, the Sofia News Agency reported.

A Bulgarian representative to the European Union said last month that investigators discovered that a Hezbollah operative was the owner of a printer used to produce fake documents that facilitated the July 18, 2012 bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists. Five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack.

The identification of the bomber is still not certain, Yovchev said.

“The position of Bulgaria on the terror act in Burgas is absolutely real, there is no change in it and we have leads pointing at Hezbollah,” Yovchev said.

Bulgaria has put increased security measures into place at bus stations, airports and hotels in advance of Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the attack, according to the Sophia News Agency.

Meanwhile, European and Israeli diplomats believe that European Union foreign ministers will decide at a meeting next week that Hezbollah’s military wing should be included on the EU’s terror list.

Report: France backs designating Hezbollah militiamen terrorists


The French government supports adding the armed wing of Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations, an Arabic daily reported.

The London-based Al Hayat daily reported on Friday that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius informed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of Paris’ decision at a meeting on Wednesday.

According to the report, the French government endorsed the designation following the finding by Bulgarian authorities that Hezbollah was responsible for the terrorist attack last summer on a busload of Israeli tourists in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, Bulgaria, and because of the support Hezbollah is providing to the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The attack in Burgas last July killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian. Earlier this month, a court in Cyprus convicted a Lebanese-Swedish man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, of plotting to kill Israelis for Hezbollah. He was sentenced to four years in jail on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Bahrain declared the Lebanese group a terrorist organization and called on other Persian Gulf nations to follow suit.

Until now, The European Union has resisted American and Israeli pressure to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. The only country in the European Union that has declared Hezbollah a terrorist entity is the Netherlands. The U.K. considers only Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist body.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency said Hezbollah routinely launders money in Europe. Germany's domestic intelligence agency said in its annual threat report for 2012 that Hezbollah had 950 supporters in Germany.

Cyprus court jails Hezbollah man for plotting to attack Israelis


A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.

Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.

He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.

Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.

“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the Republic,” the three-bench court said during sentencing.

Yaccoub's jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.

The United States, which, like Israel, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has said the guilty verdict on Yaccoub announced by the Cypriot court on March 21 highlighted the need for the European Union to crack down on the Lebanese group.

The EU, to which Cyprus belongs, has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, saying that doing so might destabilize Lebanon and add to regional tensions.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Bulgaria expels visiting Hamas lawmakers


Bulgaria reportedly expelled a group of Hamas lawmakers who were visiting from the Gaza Strip.

Bulgarian officials removed the three officials from their hotel room on Feb. 15.

The lawmakers blamed their expulsion on Israel.

“We entered the country with an official visa, so we should have left willingly rather than being expelled,” Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil told a news conference on Saturday, according to the Maan Palestinian news service. “The delegates represent the Palestinian people, not Hamas, though they are affiliated to Hamas.”

Bulgaria's National Security Service said they expelled the Hamas delegates because “we obtained information that their presence was creating a serious threat to national security,” the security service said in a statement.

Hamas delegates told to leave Bulgaria


Bulgarian security forces ordered a group of Hamas officials visiting Sofia to leave the country.

Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, on Friday quoted a statement by Hamas which said that delegates from its parliamentary party, Ismail al-Ashqar, Salah al-Bardawil and Mushir al-Masri, left Bulgaria shortly after being told to go.

The three men arrived in Bulgaria on Feb. 13 for a five-day visit meant to show that representatives of Hamas, a designated terrorist group in Bulgaria and the rest of the European Union, were increasingly welcome in Europe, Ma’an reported.

According to the Hamas statement, the men entered Bulgaria “officially” but in statements Thursday, a spokesperson for the Bulgarian government said the men had not been invited to Bulgaria nor met with Bulgarian officials.

Ma'an quoted the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy to Bulgaria as saying that he was informed by the Bulgarian foreign ministry that it “regretted” the presence of the Hamas delegation and made the decision to ask them to leave. Ma’an said the Hamas group was invited by Bulgaria's Center for Global and Middle East Studies.

The PLO and Hamas are rivals for Palestinian power.

The head of the center, Mohammed Abu Assi, told the Bulgarian news site Dnevnik that the visit was meant to “improve Bulgaria's image in the Arab world” after the country's government “made a blunder” by blaming Hezbollah for a 2012 bus bombing which targeted Israeli tourists in Burgas and killed six people. Hezbollah denies the accusations.

Iran denies involvement in Bulgaria bomb attack


Iran played no part in the bombing of a bus last year that killed Israeli tourists, its ambassador to Bulgaria said on Friday, rejecting Israeli charges that it was involved in the attack.

Bulgaria has accused the Iranian-backed Hezbollah of carrying out the July attack, a charge the Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist militia dismissed as part of a smear campaign by its arch foe Israel.

“This (the attack) has nothing to do with Iran,” Gholamreza Bageri told reporters. “We are against any form of terrorism and strongly condemn such actions.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week accused Hezbollah and Iran of waging a “global terror campaign” after the attack in Burgas, which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber.

Given the link to an attack on European Union soil, Brussels is considering adding Hezbollah – which is part of the Lebanese government and waged a brief war with Israel in 2006 – to its list of terrorist organizations.

The United States already lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group and U.S. and Israeli authorities want the European Union to take a similar position, which would mean Brussels could act to freeze its assets in Europe.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Jon Boyle

Hezbollah denies involvement in Burgas attack


Hezbollah denied it was involved in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six, including five Israelis.

Two days after the Bulgarian government implicated two men with links to Hezbollah to the terrorist attack last July, deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said Thursday that Israel is making “allegations and incitements and accusations against Hezbollah” because it has not succeeded in defeating it militarily, Reuters reported.

“Israel is leading an international campaign to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah,” Qassem reportedly told religious students in southern Beirut. “We will not submit to these pressures and we will not change our priorities. Our compass will remain directed towards Israel.”

Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006.

Bulgaria's interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, told reporters on Tuesday that Hezbollah also financed the bomb attack on a tour bus full of Israelis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said his government would cooperate with Bulgarian investigators, according to Reuters. The people directly behind the attack were part of a Hezbollah cell that included two operatives using passports from Australia and Canada, he said.

Israel has blamed Hezbollah and Iran for the attack, which also killed the Israeli tourists' Bulgarian bus driver. Iran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of staging the attack.

Israel says Iran, Hezbollah waging global terror campaign


Two men with links to the terrorist organization Hezbollah were implicated in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six, including five Israelis, a Bulgarian official has said.

Hezbollah also financed the bomb attack on a tour bus full of Israelis last July, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters on Tuesday following a six-hour Cabinet meeting.

The people directly behind the attack were part of Hezbollah cell that included two operatives using passports from Australia and Canada.

Unveiling the results of the six-month inquiry in Sofia on Feb. 5, Tsvetanov said: “We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” adding: “There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.” The pair had lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010 respectively, the AFP news agency quoted Mr Tsvetanov as saying.

Until now Bulgaria has avoided making public any suspicions about who was behind the attack and prior to Tsvetanov's news conference, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev did not confirm nor deny reports that Bulgaria would blame Hezbollah and Iran for the terrorist attack.

Israel has blamed both Hezbollah and Iran for the attack, which also killed the Israeli tourists' Bulgarian bus driver. Iran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of staging the attack.

“There should be no more equivocation, Hezbollah should be added to the E.U.’s officially group of terrorist organizations without delay or reservation,” Moshe Kantor, president of European Jewish Congress, said in a statement after the Bulgarian announcement.

The U.S. Congress in recent weeks has called on European bodies to join the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

British and Dutch officials pressed last year for concerted E.U. action against Hezbollah, a major player in the Lebanese government, but other nations including France have resisted efforts to blacklist the group in an apparent effort to maintain good relations with Beirut. The U.K. has classified only Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist group, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Feb. 5: “There is only one Hezbollah, a single organization with the same leadership.” He added: “The attack in Burgas was on European soil against a member of the European Union. We hope the Europeans will draw the necessary conclusions as to Hezbollah's true nature.”

In his statement, Kantor said Hezbollah's designation by the E.U. as a terrorist entity “should not be subject to political considerations, but whether proscribing Hezbollah will hinder its continuing efforts to murder innocent civilians in Europe and around the world.”

EU High Representive Catherine Ashton commended the Bulgarian authorities for their attention to the investigation,

“The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on E.U. soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians. The High Representative condemns all terrorist acts, wherever they take place, and emphasises that the E.U. and member states are committed to the fight against terrorism, whoever stands behind it,” she said Tuesday through a spokesperson.

EU official: Hezbollah may not make terror list, even with Bulgaria bombing


Hezbollah may not be included on the European Union's list of terrorist groups even if it did bomb Jewish tourists in Bulgaria, the EU's top counter-terrorism official reportedly said.

On Monday, the news site EUobserver quoted the official, Gilles de Kerchove, as saying that Bulgaria's investigation into the incident is likely to be concluded next month.

According to Israel, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah was behind the bombing on July 19 in Burgas, which targeted a bus of Israeli tourists and left five Israelis and one Bulgarian dead.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said the EU should blacklist Hezbollah if the Bulgarians find it guilty of perpetrating the attack. Its inclusion would make it illegal for Hezbollah sympathizers in Europe to send money to the group, which the United States and Israel list as terrorist.

“There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack,” de Kerchove is quoted as saying. “It's not only the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing.”

He noted there is “no consensus” among EU states on whether listing Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, would be useful or not.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat last week cited a “European source” as saying that he predicted the investigation will point to Hezbollah. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry denies the report, however.

Report: Bulgaria lacks proof of Hezbollah involvement in terrorist attack


Bulgaria says there is no evidence that Hezbollah was behind an attack on Israelis last year.

According to the report Thursday on 24chasa.bg, Bulgarian authorities have identified an Arab with links to al-Qaida as a suspected accomplice in the bombing at the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July.

The report came shortly after Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, paid a surprise visit to Israel to brief leaders on its probe into the bombing.

Jerusalem blamed the suicide attack, which killed seven Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian, on Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disclose the details of the meeting with Mladenov.

A Bulgarian finding that Hezbollah was linked to the attack could lead to its classification as a terrorist group in the European Union.

Congress has in recent weeks called on European bodies to join the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Burgas bombing investigator dismissed for leaking info to media


An investigator in the deadly July bombing in Burgas was dismissed for leaking classified information to the media.

The Prosecutor's Office dismissed Staneliva Karadzhova after she provided information about the latest developments in the probe of the July 18 attack, the Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported. Five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed in the attack at the seaside resort.

Karadzhova reportedly was dismissed on Jan. 3, the same day she told a local newspaper that Bulgaria’s security services had identified one of the perpetrators of the bombing. The suspect was not named.

The Office of the District Prosecutor in Burgas said in a statement issued Monday that Karadzhova was dismissed because “she spoke to the media without clearing her statement with the supervising prosecutor,” The Associated Press reported.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation.

The bomber used the alias Jacque Felipe Martin; an accomplice was known as Ralph Willima Rico. Neither suspect's true identity has been discovered, according to Novinite.

Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose actual identity was discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast occurred on a bus soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria Flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Bulgarian police identify accomplice in Burgas bombing


Bulgaria’s security services reportedly have discovered the identity of one of the perpetrators of the July bombing in Burgas that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian.

The Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported Thursday that the discovery was the first time Bulgarian authorities had tracked down an individual suspect, as the bomber and another accomplice are known only by their aliases.

The report did not name the newly discovered accomplice. Bulgarian authorities have no suspects in custody in connection with the case.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing at the seaside resort to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation. According to a report in The New York Times, Israel’s intelligence apparatus intercepted telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas months ahead of the bombing.

Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States but not in the European Union, could be classified as such also in Europe if it is found to have perpetrated an attack on EU soil.

The bomber was known under the alias of Jacque Felipe Martin and he had an accomplice with the alias of Ralph Willima Rico. Neither of the suspect's true identities has been discovered, according to Novinite. Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose true identity has been discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast on the bus occurred soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Shapiro at 9/11 ceremony: U.S. won’t allow Iran to have nuclear weapon


U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said that the United States “would not permit Iran to be armed with a nuclear weapon.”

He made his remarks Tuesday during a ceremony near Jerusalem to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The ceremony by the U.S. Embassy in Israel and the KKL-Jewish National Fund was held at the Living Memorial monument in the Arazim Park outside of Jerusalem. The memorial contains all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attack, including the five Israeli victims.

Shapiro called the attacks “a pain that perhaps dulls with time but never truly leaves us.”

“There is no nation that better understands our pain, and there is no nation that better identifies with our experience than Israel,” Shapiro said.

He also said that: “An Iran armed with a nuclear weapon is an unacceptable threat, and we will not permit it to be realized.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a joint press conference Tuesday with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, also marked the Sept. 11 attack.

“Today is Sept. 11th. So we commemorate the greatest terror attack of all time. We know that this malignancy threatens the entire world. And we know that the free countries and the principled countries have to stand together to defeat it. And we know that we have, with you, such a partnership, and I have no doubt that we shall prevail,” he said.

Five Israeli tourists and the tour bus driver were killed on July 18 when a suicide bomber attacked the bus shortly after the group's arrival at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria.

Families of Burgas victims attend memorial ceremony, visit attack site


The families of the Israelis killed in a terror attack at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, attended a ceremony for the victims.

The memorial was held Tuesday at the Great Synagogue in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The families of the five victims of the July 18 attack visited the site of the suicide bombing a day earlier.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said after the ceremony that he has set a deadline of Sept. 15 for a public report on the investigation into the attack, according to the Focus News Agency.

“Israel and Bulgaria will not calm down and hold our peace until all people involved in the terror attack in Burgas are punished,” said Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, said at the ceremony. “We will pursue them [the perpetrators] with all the strength we have and we will not give up until we get even with them. We will do it without wondering and without batting an eyelid, just like we have always done.”

Bulgaria’s minister of economy, energy and tourism, Delyan Dobrev, met with the families on Monday at the airport.

“The security measures that were taken for the tourists in Bulgaria will not be just temporary but will remain for good,” he said according to Focus. “In cooperation with the Israeli services, we analyzed the security at key places in Bulgaria and we will apply even more measures to guarantee the enhanced security.”

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Bulgarian police release photo of bomb attack accomplice


Bulgarian police released a computer-generated image and a fake driver’s license photo of a man believed to be an accomplice in the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas that killed six.

The fake Michigan driver’s license is registered to Jacques Philippe Martin, but investigators have learned that the man from the photo introduced himself by other names, according to the Focus information agency.

The man appears to be wearing a wig in the license photo. It was originally believed that the license belonged to the dead suicide bomber, but it was later determined to belong to an accomplice.

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the July 18 attack on a tour bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Report: Calls between Lebanon and Burgas increased before attack


Israel has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing that killed six people, The New York Times reported.

The volume of calls intensified in the three days before the attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists, the newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior government official, pointing the finger even more directly—in Israel’s eyes—at the terror group Hezbollah.

“We know the sources in Lebanon,” although not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official told the Times.

Israel placed the blame for the July 18 attack on both Iran and Hezbollah. The United States and Bulgaria reportedly agree with the assessment, but have not said so officially.

The Bulgarian investigation has “largely stalled,” according to The New York Times. The attacker and his accomplices have not yet been identified. Bulgarian officials are hesitant to declare Hezbollah responsible without hard evidence, according to the newspaper.

An unnamed senior security official in Germany was quoted as saying that the European allies are skeptical that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, speculating that Iran used “individuals with Hezbollah affiliation.” 

Arab Israeli MK Zoabi blames Israeli policy for terror attack in Bulgaria


An Israeli Arab Knesset member said that Israeli policy led to the deadly recent terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.

“Israel is not a victim, and even when civilians are killed, the occupying Israeli policy is to blame,” Channel 10 quoted Haneen Zoabi as saying, The Jerusalem Post reported. “If there was no occupation, no repression and no blockade, then this wouldn’t have happened,” she said during an interview at Haifa’s Gordon College.

The terrorist attack, which American and Israeli offiicals blame on a Hezbollah operative, killed five Israelis and wounded another 36 on vacation in Burgas, Bulgaria.

Zoabi also came out against efforts to have the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics remembered with a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies of this year’s London Olympics. She is member of the National Democratic Assembly, a secular party that says a democratic, secular stay is the only that Israel’s Arab citizens can “achieve full, cultural, national and minority rights.”

“Why don’t they commemorate the Palestinians that Israel murdered?” Channel 2 quoted Zoabi as saying. “If Israel would say that it recognizes the injustice it has done to Palestinians, then it would also be logical to ask the world to remember all the sides. But it is hypocritical to continue to bring up the victims of 40 years ago, while Israel wants to hide the victims of recent years.”

Zoabi on Friday denied the reports, saying that the media had ignored her condemnation of the murder of Jewish civilians in Burgas and her participation in a minute of silence in their memory in the Knesset, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The media, she said, also ignored her central contention: that the occupation is the central act of terrorism, the center of conflict and suffering in the region, the paper reported.

Editorial Cartoon: The Endless Relay Race


Iran accuses Israel of plotting Bulgaria bus attack


Iran’s U.N. envoy accused Israel on Wednesday of plotting and carrying out a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Bulgaria a week ago in which five Israeli tourists were killed.

A suicide bomber blew up the bus in a car park at Burgas airport, a popular gateway for tourists visiting Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, killing himself, the Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounding more than 30 people.

Israel has accused Iran and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah of the bombing. Iran has denied the accusations.

“It’s amazing that just a few minutes after the terrorist attack, Israeli officials announced that Iran was behind it,” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told a U.N. Security Council debate on the Middle East. “We have never and will not engage in such a despicable attempt on … innocent people.”

“Such terrorist operation could only be planned and carried out by the same regime whose short history is full of state terrorism operations and assassinations aimed implicating others for narrow political gains,” Khazaee said. “I could provide … many examples showing that this regime killed its own citizens and innocent Jewish people during the last couple of decades.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Haim Waxman said Iran’s fingerprints were all over the bomb attack in Bulgaria, as well as dozens of other plots in recent months around the world.

“These comments are appalling, but not surprising from the same government that says the 9/11 attack was a conspiracy theory and denies the Holocaust,” Waxman said in a statement.

Some analysts believe Iran is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists involved in its controversial nuclear program that it blames on Israel and the United States. Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who the Jewish state maintained had struck on behalf of Tehran.

“The time has come for the world to put an end to this campaign of terror, once and for all,” Waxman said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jackie Frank

Suicide bomber behind Bulgaria bus attack had help, Bulgarian prime minister says


A suicide bomber who killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in Bulgaria last week was backed up by an organized group who helped him plan and carry out the attack, Boiko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, said on Tuesday.

Borisov said police had not yet identified the bomber whose attack also wounded more than 30 people at Burgas airport last Wednesday, but said the man had not acted alone.

“These are extremely experienced people who have followed strict conspiracy rules,” Borisov told reporters after meeting John Brennan, a counter-terrorism adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.

“From what we see, they arrived nearly a month beforehand, changed rental cars, and traveled to different cities … and not more than one of the people we are looking for was captured on either security camera,” Borisov said.

He declined to give more details on the plotters.

Borisov said that the bomber’s DNA and finger prints had not matched anything held on file by Bulgaria or by partner spy agencies and that police were still working to identify him.

But he suggested that the attacker, whose bomb was concealed in his backpack, may have entered Bulgaria on a plane from the European Union’s “Schengen” passport-free travel zone. He did not elaborate.

Israel has accused Iran and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah of the bombing. Iran has denied the accusations.

Borisov said that Bulgaria – a member of both the EU and NATO – would not say who it thought was responsible for the attack until the investigation was complete.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Hezbollah: Uncertain future, but still dangerous


Hezbollah may have hurt Israel with last week’s bus bombing in Bulgaria, but the Lebanese terrorist faction faces an uncertain future as one of its main sponsors—Syria’s Assad regime—faces a serious revolt and weakening support from once Arab allies, according to analysts.

Still, no one is predicting the quick demise of Hezbollah.

As has been the case throughout the Arab popular uprisings of the past 20 months, Israelis have viewed the turmoil gripping Syria with wariness. President Bashar Assad was no ally of Israel’s—the countries technically remain in a state of war—but the Syrian regime has kept its border with Israel mostly quiet for nearly 40 years under Assad and previously his father, Hafez Assad.

“We don’t feel reassured that those who are trying to topple the Assad regime are a great improvement,” said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. The Assad government, he said, “for its own interests, kept the armistice” with Israel.

Some Israeli policy experts, however, are looking forward to a Syrian regime change because it is one of Hezbollah’s main backers, along with Iran. Syria has acted as a crucial pipeline for Hezbollah to receive money and weapons from Iran and elsewhere.  A new Syrian government might close that route.

“Hezbollah is losing support in the Arab world,” said Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the strategic planning division of the Israel Defense Forces. “It’s on the wrong side of history. Syria was a central source of support.”

Hezbollah, however, remains a serious danger on several levels.

In an address at an IDF ceremony on Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak cautioned that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons may fall into Hezbollah control if they are transferred over the border due to a weakened Assad regime.

“The State of Israel cannot accept a situation whereby advanced weapons systems are transferred from Syria to Lebanon,” Barak said. “There is no doubt that we are facing a global terror campaign, against Israel in particular, with Hezbollah at its center, inspired by Iran.”

Barak did not elaborate on the Israeli military’s plans. In a statement, the IDF said it “is carefully following events in Syria as they unfold, as they may have significant regional repercussions.”

Further, Hezbollah is now reported to have up to 50,000 missiles—more than three times the 13,000 it reportedly held when it began launching rockets at Israel six years ago, leading to the Second Lebanon War. In that nearly monthlong conflict, almost 4,000 missiles landed on Israel, killing 43 civilians and wounding more than 4,000.

Israeli authorities also are worried about the security of the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights as Assad loses control of the country. Last Friday, Syrian rebels took control of several posts on the country’s borders with Iran and Turkey.

In May 2011, masses of Syrians stormed the Israeli border in commemoration of Palestinians losing their homes in Israel’s War of Independence, which they call the Nakba. More than a dozen people died as Israel fired on the protesters.

Now analysts fear that a rebel takeover could lead to a porous border that allows terrorists to infiltrate the country.

“The Golan may become a kind of Sinai, with ideological extremist organizations that are on our border,” Brom said, referring to the current state of Israel’s border with Egypt in the Sinai desert.

Regardless of the possible scenarios, the analysts all dismissed the idea that last the July 18 terrorist attack in Bulgaria was a direct result of the Syrian fighting. Senior Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have blamed Hezbollah for the attack, which they say is the product of a global Iranian campaign of terror aimed at Israeli targets.

Hezbollah and Iran have rejected the allegations.

Middle East professor Eyal Zisser said that “Bulgaria is a story with Iran and Hezbollah that is a long story,” while Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel, called the attack “part of the ongoing hidden war between Iran and Israel and part of Hezbollah’s ongoing effort to attack Israel.”

Shoval noted, though, that the attack in part could be Hezbollah’s way of asserting that it can survive without Syrian support.

“Obviously there is a connection between what happened in Bulgaria and the situation in which Hezbollah finds itself these days,” he said. “Maybe it wanted to prove that it can also act indirectly or directly with Iran, and not only through the intermediary of the Syrians.”

But Shoval said that Israelis should not necessarily rest assured that Assad’s fall means Hezbollah’s decline, even though Hezbollah is a Shiite group while most Syrians are Sunni.

“This is presented as a Sunni-against-Shia struggle, but with regard to terrorism and enmity against Israel, they won’t have any difficulty to cooperate,” he said. “One can’t rule out the possibility that Hezbollah will be supported by a Sunni regime in Syria.”

While most Israelis are worried about what Syria will look like when Assad falls, others are more optimistic.

“In the Middle East there is a struggle between extremist Islam and moderate Islam,” said Alon Liel, who has advocated in the past for an Israel-Syria peace agreement. “In the long run, moderate Islam is not bad for Israel.”

In Bulgaria, Israel’s tourism minister vows to continue tourism ties


Israeli Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov traveled to Bulgaria to shore up the relationship between the two countries in the wake of the deadly attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists.

Accompanying Misezhnikov on Monday’s trip were senior representatives of the Israeli tourism industry.

“After what happened in Burgas, we will continue to travel as tourists—in Israel and in Bulgaria, and wherever else we wish,” Misezhnikov said. “We will not reward the terrorist act. We will not react to it with fear.”

The minister attended a memorial service at Burgas Airport and met with the Jewish community in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Later he met in the city with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov .

“Bulgaria and Israel are friendly nations, and we will not allow the terrorist attack in Burgas to overshadow our traditionally good ties,” Misezhnikov told Borisov. “Any change in our relations would be a reward for terrorism.”

He said the two countries have a common enemy in Iran.

During the first half of 2012, there was an 11 percent increase in tourists from Bulgaria to Israel as compared to the same time last year. According to data from the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism, nearly 139,000 Israelis visited Bulgaria in 2011. The same year, more than 8,000 Bulgarian tourists visited Israel.

Planes with wounded return to Israel; Peres: ‘Israel will act against terror’


President Shimon Peres said in response to the deadly attack in Bulgaria that Israel will “locate and act against terror all over the world,” as the wounded and dead arrived in Israel.

Two planes carrying Israelis wounded from Wednesday evening’s attack were landed in Israel at approximately 3:30 local time on Thursday. After landing, passengers were sent to hospitals near the airport or near their homes. A third plane has brought home the 70 Israelis who escaped injury in the attack.

Brig.-Gen. Itzik Kreis, head of the Israeli Defense Force Medical Corps, said that the wounded returning to Israel were “less seriously hurt than we expected.”

Two of those wounded in the attack remained in hospitals in Sofia, Bulgaria—with one in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Kreis said that victims “got very good medical care in Bulgaria.” He said that injuries suffered in the bus bombing were similar to injuries caused by bus bombings in Israel.

“This was a bloody attack against civilians going on vacation. Many of them lost their lives, others were wounded for no reason, for no purpose. They were attacked for the simple and unacceptable reason that they were Jewish or Israeli,” Peres said.

“We will not forget, we will not ignore and we will not give up. Israel will locate and act against terror all over the world. We have the capabilities for it and are committed to act. We have the ability to silence and incapacitate the terror organizations. Anywhere in the world where it is possible we shall build friendship and anywhere in the world where it is necessary we will chase murderous terrorists. We will uproot terror both near and far.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday morning that of the seven dead, five were Israelis, one was the bus driver and one the suicide bomber.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel has concrete information that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group carried out the attack.

The dead have not yet been positively identified, according to reports.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry released video footage of the man identified as the suicide bomber.

The bomber was dressed like a tourist and carried a fake Michigan driver’s license, Novinite.com reported.  He reportedly had hung out near the buses slated to take the Israeli tourists to their hotel for more than an hour.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov reiterated on Thursday that Bulgarian officials had received no warning of an imminent attack on Israeli or Jewish targets.

Suspected suicide bomber had fake U.S. I.D.; Surveillance camera captures image


A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

Iran denied it was behind Wednesday’s attack at Burgas airport, a popular gateway for tourists visiting the Black Sea coast.

Video surveillance footage showed the bomber was similar in appearance to tourists arriving at the airport, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.

The bomber had been circling around a group of buses, which were about to take Israeli tourists to a resort near Burgas, for about an hour before the explosion, the footage showed.

“We have established there was a person who was a suicide bomber in this attack. This person had a fake driving license from the United States, from the state of Michigan,” Tsvetanov told reporters at the airport.

“He looked like anyone else – a normal person with Bermuda shorts and a backpack,” he said.

The bomber was said to be 36 years old and had been in the country for between four and seven days before the attack.

Special forces had managed to obtain DNA samples from the fingers of the bomber and were now checking databases in an attempt to identify him, Tsvetanov said.

The foreign ministry said seven people were killed in the attack, including the Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber. The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed that five Israelis were killed.

The tourists had arrived in Bulgaria on a charter flight from Israel and were on the bus in the airport car park when the blast tore through the vehicle. Body parts were strewn across the ground, mangled metal hung from the double-decker bus’s ripped roof and black smoke billowed over the airport.

AIRPORT CLOSED

On Thursday, the airport in Burgas – a city of 200,000 people at the center of a string of seaside resorts – remained closed and police prevented people from approaching.

Beyond the cordons, about 100 holidaymakers waited for their flights but had been told they would be there until midnight. Officials were setting up portable toilets and tents for stranded travelers and Bulgaria’s parliament opened with a one minute silence in memory of the bombing victims.

“It felt like an earthquake and then I saw flying pieces of meat,” said Georgi Stoev, an airport official. “It was horrible, just like in a horror movie.”

“Yesterday’s attack in Bulgaria was perpetrated by Hezbollah, Iran’s leading terrorist proxy,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We will continue to fight against Iranian terror. It will not defeat us. We will act against it with great force.”

Israel however indicated it would not hasten into any open conflict with Iran or Hezbollah.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would “do everything possible in order to find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them” – language that appeared to suggest covert action against individuals.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev linked the arrest of a foreigner in Cyprus this month on suspicion of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists there with the Bulgaria bombing.

“The suspect who was arrested in Cyprus, in his interrogation, revealed an operational plan that is almost identical to what happened in Bulgaria. He is from Hezbollah … this is a further indication of Hezbollah and Iran’s direct responsibility,” he told Reuters.

“BASELESS ACCUSATIONS”

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman dismissed Israel’s “baseless accusations” that Tehran was involved in the bombing.

The blast occurred on the 18th anniversary of a bomb attack on Argentina’s main Jewish organization that killed 85 people. Argentina blamed Iran, which denied responsibility.

Medical officials said two badly injured Israeli tourists were taken to hospitals in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. One woman was in intensive care with head and chest injuries and a man was in a critical state with burns covering 55 percent of his body.

About 70 Israeli tourists, including those lightly injured by the blast, left Burgas on a Bulgarian government airplane to Israel, the interior ministry said.

The European Commission and NATO condemned the attack, joining criticism from the United States, Britain, France and Germany, and the mayor of Burgas announced a day of mourning.

Israeli officials had previously said that Bulgaria, a popular destination for Israeli tourists, was vulnerable to attack by Islamist militants, who could infiltrate via Turkey.

Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who Israel said struck on behalf of Iran.

Some analysts believe Iran is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists from its nuclear program, which Israel and Western powers fear is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment work is strictly for peaceful ends. Both Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood

Deadly Bulgaria attack survivors recall chaos, tragedy


Vered Kuza was standing with her daughter, Amit, on an airport shuttle bus at Sarafovo International Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, when she suddenly heard a blast.

“It’s an attack!” Kuza, 54, shouted at Amit, 26. “We need to get out of here!”

She pushed her daughter through the door just as the bus exploded. Kuza was knocked unconscious. Her daughter landed on the ground, debris ripping into her left shoulder, through her chest and down to her liver.

When Vered Kuza regained consciousness, her feet “were swollen to a ridiculous size.” Her daughter was nowhere to be seen.

“Everything was broken,” Kuza told JTA, lying in a hospital bed in a Tel Aviv emergency room on Thursday, her feet wrapped in gauze and plastic and a red No. 2 scrawled on her forehead. “There were body parts around me. I didn’t know what was happening. It was smoking, hellish. It was horrifying.”

Five Israelis died in the attack that Kuza survived. According to Israeli reports, the five deceased are Amir Menashe, 27; Itzik Kolengi, 27; childhood friends Maor Harush, 26, and Elior Priess, 26; and Kochava Shriki, 44. In addition, the bus driver and suicide bomber died in the attack.

Ynet News reported that minutes before the attack, Shriki called her sister and told her that she was pregnant for the first time. Shriki’s husband, Yitzhak, survived and spent hours searching for his wife.

After the bomb exploded, “I walked toward the exit and called to my wife, ‘Come toward the door!’” he told Ynet. “After a few seconds I realized she wasn’t with me. The fog was thick like sand, and I went to look for her but it was impossible to get through.”

Kuza was one of 33 Israelis injured in the attack to be flown back to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday afternoon and sent to hospitals throughout the country, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Her daughter was one of three Israelis who were too seriously injured to make the trip and remained hospitalized in Bulgaria.

The head of the IDF Medical Corps, Itzik Kreis, said that the injured passengers who arrived in Israel “got very good medical care in Bulgaria” and “were less seriously hurt than we expected.”

The IDF Medical Corps landed in Bulgaria on Wednesday night to tend to the victims and bring them back to Israel. Kreis said that the injuries the corps saw were similar to those suffered by bus bombing victims in Israel.

A plane carrying 70 Israeli tourists in Bulgaria scheduled to fly home on Wednesday night was delayed, but arrived on Thursday.

Seven people died in the attack, which occurred Wednesday at about 5 p.m. The dead included five Israelis, the bus driver and the suicide bomber. Names of those killed were scheduled to be announced on Thursday night after their bodies arrived in Israel.

An airport security camera at the Sarafovo airport in Burgas revealed that the bomber was a Caucasian man with long hair and a backpack who had been wandering around the area for about an hour. He reportedly was carrying a fake Michigan driver’s license.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly accused Iran of sponsoring the attack. In a statement on Thursday, Netanyahu called on “the world’s leading powers” to recognize “that Iran is the country that stands behind this terror campaign.  Iran must be exposed by the international community as the premiere terrorist-supporting state that it is.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had information that the attack was the joint work of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Iran has denied the allegations.

Soon after the attack, Amit Kuza was taken by paramedics to a hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Her mother “sat on the side of the road,” unattended for two hours because she was deemed to be in stable condition, she said.

“I had no one to talk to,” Vered Kuza said. “I didn’t even have a glass of water. They don’t know English. It was primitive.”

Bulgarian officials told Kuza that her daughter was in Sofia and in a stable condition. But Kuza was not able to speak to her daughter until Thursday morning. Amit and the two others who had remained in Bulgaria were scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday evening.

When news of the attack reached Israel, Arik Kuza, Vered’s husband, called the Foreign Ministry to find out if his wife and daughter were alive.

“I called 50 times,” he said, standing at Vered’s bedside. “They put me on hold and I heard music. I waited for hours.”

Lying in her hospital bed, she spoke in a calm and even tone. With her daughter scheduled to arrive in a few hours, she said she felt lucky to be alive.

Israel names five victims of Bulgaria terror attack


The names of the five Israelis killed in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria were released Thursday, after Israeli authorities had confirmed their identification and informed the families.

The names of those killed are Maor Harush, 24, and Elior Price, 25, from Acre; Itzik Kolangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, from Petah Tikva; Kochava Shriki, 42, from Rishon Letzion. The sixth victim was the Bulgarian bus driver, Mustafa Kyosov, 36.

Friends and relatives visiting the families of Harush and Price in Acre said that the two were “friends in their life and in their death.” On Wednesday, the two boarded the flight along with another friend, Daniel Fahima, who was seriously wounded in the attack. The three were planning on taking a six-day vacation and were expected to return to Israel next week on Monday.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Strangers to hate crimes, Bulgarian Jews reeling from Burgas bombing


Until this week, leaders of Bulgaria’s small, generally placid Jewish community said felt untouched by hate crimes or terrorism.

But after Wednesday’s apparent suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Borgas, Jews in the country are speaking of a basic change in their sense of security.

“We used to convene without a shred of fear in the Jewish community’s buildings,” said Kamen Petrov, vice president of Maccabi Bulgaria. “I guess we had been unprepared. Things will have to change from now on. We thought something like this could not happen in Bulgaria.”

Wednesday’s explosion outside Sarafovo Airport in Burgas killed six Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suspected suicide bomber. More than 30 Israelis were injured. The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Israel.

Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, said that three years ago the community had drafted emergency plans to respond to potential terror attacks.
“We discussed such scenarios. But we see that it’s one thing to discuss them, and it’s another to see the scenario happening before your eyes,” he told JTA. Bevenisti said security measures will now be tightened. “The situation needs to be improved,” he said.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Wednesday that at a meeting a month ago, with representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service did not warn Bulgarian officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community had increased its security arrangements in February, following warnings from the local Israeli Embassy, according to Martin Levi, vice chairman of the Jewish community in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Among other measures, security at the entrances to the community building in Sofia and other Jewish institutions were tightened. Bulgarian authorities had been made aware of the warnings, he said.

That came in the wake of the discovery by Bulgarian authorities of a bomb on a charter bus for Israelis that was heading to a Bulgarian ski resort from the Turkish border.

“We took the alerts seriously and upped security, but the Bulgarian authorities were dismissive,” Levi said. “Some argued Bulgaria was immune because it had such excellent relations and cultural attachment to Muslim populations. I am deeply disappointed in how the authorities handled this.”

He learned of the attack while in Hungary, where he is helping instructors run a summer camp for some 260 Jewish children from the Balkans. Next week, a summer camp for Bulgarian Jewish children will open in Bulgaria.

The camp has taken additional precautions as well, he said, without offering details.

“We want to beef up security without causing panic,” Levi said. “We try to tell the children as little as possible about the attack and continue with our program. We don’t want this to become ‘the summer camp of the terrorist attack.’”

The flow of Israeli tourists into Bulgaria picked up in 2009, following the deterioration in Israel’s relation’s with Turkey. Bulgaria’s minister of tourism was quoted as saying that nearly 150,000 Israelis were expected to visit Bulgaria this year. Some 20 percent of standing reservations from Israel have been canceled since the attack.

Tania Reytan, a sociologist at the University of Sofia who is Jewish and promotes interfaith dialogue, said she has limited faith in the effectiveness of additional security measures in the long run.

“The biggest security gap is in the extremist’s mind,” she said. “We need to reach out more to the other communities and explain who we are and what our values are.”

Though Bulgaria has a pro-Israel foreign policy, she said, “Israel is always mentioned in a negative context in Bulgaria.” The terrorists picked Bulgaria, she said, “because they sought for the weakest link in the European Union, and they found it.”

Some observers are worried that the attack could have negative repercussions for the generally positive relations between Bulgarians Jews and Muslims. Approximately 8 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million people are Muslim, the vast majority of them ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria has an estimated 3,500 to 5,700 Jews.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in Bulgaria have historically been “peaceful and friendly,” said Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days. “We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.

Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau, speculated that the suicide bomber might have been homegrown – either recruited locally or having crossed over from Turkey.

Representatives of Bulgaria’s Muslim community issued strong condemnations of the attack, as did representatives of various other ethnic and religious groups and associations.

“We refuse to believe that the bomber is a Bulgarian Muslim. We don’t believe that any of them could undertake such action,” said Ahmed Ahmedov, spokesman for the chief Bulgarian mufti.

Mufti Mustafa Alsih Hadzhi, in an official statement to the Bulgarian media, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “barbarian act” and expressed condolences with the families of the victims. Ahmedov said that the attack should not be interpreted as a religious act, but as some kind of “economic provocation” aimed at crippling the local tourist business.
Despite the attack, some Israelis seem undeterred from coming to Bulgaria.

Rabbi Yossi Halperin of Varna – a city situated about 50 miles north of Burgas and where flights to and from Burgas were rerouted after the attack – said he found “a good number of recent arrivals” from Israel when he went to Varna’s airport “to help people through all the confusion.”

Svetlana Guineva reported for this story from Sofia, Bulgaria; Cnaan Liphshiz reported from The Hague, and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

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