JERUSALEM -- Two suicide bombs exploded yesterday in the city's bustling Jewish market, killing 15 people, injuring scores of other shoppers and delivering a critical wound to a peace process that had just started showing signs of life again.
The militant wing of the Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack in which the dead included the two suicide bombers, said Israeli police.
The terrorist group also gave Israel a Sunday night deadline to release all Palestinian prisoners held in its jails, according to a flier delivered to an international news agency.
The terrorists struck just as U.S. envoy Dennis Ross was preparing to leave for Israel on a mission to try to rekindle the peace talks that have been stalled since Israel broke ground on a controversial housing project in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.
Announcing the postponement of Ross' mission yesterday, President Clinton denounced the attack as "barbarous" and called on the Palestinian authority to "increase security operations."
Yesterday's was the first deadly terrorist bombing since March 21, when an attack in a Tel Aviv cafe killed three Israeli women and the Palestinian suicide bomber.
Within two hours of the midday market bombing in West Jerusalem, Israel closed its borders with the Palestinian self-ruled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The army set up roadblocks to keep Palestinians from traveling between West Bank towns.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to accept the condolences of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and demanded that he take forceful action against terrorists.
"What we have seen from the Palestinian authority is zero, even less," Netanyahu said, after visiting the wounded at Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.
"We expect action to apprehend these terrorists and their leaders, to collect the explosives and the weapons that are there in the field. We expect words as well.
"Not words of condolences but words of condemnation. That is what any decent people can expect of those who claim to be their partners in peace."
The Palestinians and Israelis had agreed only this week to resume low-level negotiations that were seen as a sign that the peace process might be revived.
Arafat denounced the killings as an attack "against the peace process."
Late last night, Reuters news service reported that Arafat had ordered the arrest of members of militant Muslim groups, as he did last year after suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Yesterday's suicide bombers struck at one of the most routine aspects of daily life in Jerusalem -- shopping at the bustling Mahane Yehuda market. The open market -- with many entrances and a maze of alleys -- has been the target of at least seven previous attacks, including one of the first Palestinian terror attacks in 1968, when a car bomb exploded and killed a dozen people.
The merchants are predominantly Sephardic Jews, whose families emigrated from Arab countries. Many workers are young Arab men.
Bombers blended in
Young Jerusalemites looking for hearty and reasonably priced produce shop alongside ultra-Orthodox Jews in traditional black frock coats and wide-brimmed hats. The two suicide bombers fit in -- they wore conservative white shirts and ties, police said.
At about 1: 15 p.m., the two men stood about 30 yards from each other, across a crowded shopping street. Each man carried a briefcase containing 22 pounds of explosives. They detonated their deadly, nail-packed bombs within 15 seconds of each other, according to Israel's public safety chief, Avigdor Kahalani.
A corner of the busy market burst into flames, smoke and shrieks of pain as some people were blown to pieces. Several green awnings caved in. Stalls collapsed and food carts overturned, spilling produce, clothes and retail goods across the scorched pavement.
Bloody body parts mingled with mashed fruit. Cartons of eggs lay crushed. Watermelons tumbled into the street and smashed, the pink flesh sweating in the bright sun.
Simha Kadouri, 73, was shopping when the bombs went off.
"Suddenly in front of me there was fire," said Kadouri, whose son Yehuda died in the 1968 car bomb attack at the market. "People were on top of one another and a lot of blood was spilled. I was crying for all of them."
Nehama Elyahu heard the first explosion while looking for olives. She had just left her husband, Tzion, at a fish stall. She raced back through the market.
"I ran through pools of blood and people with limbs cut off until I found him," she said. "He was lying on the ground, blood all over. He looked up at me and I screamed for someone to take him to the hospital."
Elyahu recounted her experience while standing beside her 53-year-old husband, who lay burned and bruised in the emergency room of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Tzion Elyahu bore the marks of the terrorist attack -- his brown hair was singed white at his hairline; his right arm smoky and scorched. A chain-link gold bracelet was stuck to his burned right wrist. Charred bits of debris clung to his chest hairs.
"I was thrown into the air," the man said. "And then I hit the ground."
That morning Elyahu had visited a well-known rabbi in Jerusalem and sought a blessing for his son, who left for the army yesterday. "That's what saved me," he said.
Within 15 minutes of the attack, scores of Israeli soldiers swarmed through the market. Medics in orange vests hauled stretchers into the crowd to rescue the more than 170 people who were injured. Orthodox Jews in the skullcaps of the religious pulled on rubber gloves to begin the grim task of retrieving the body parts of the wounded and the dead.
"I saw the bodies, and I could recognize some of them," said
David Boneh, a pastry stall owner. "All the place is ruined, but thank God my friend and I are OK."
A few dozen Jewish youths shouted "Death to the Arabs" and "Kill them all" as they gathered in the marketplace.
Investigators leading bomb-sniffing dogs walked up and down the market aisles, while police searched garbage bins and stalls for suspicious objects. Many areas of the market escaped damage. Although some merchants said they could feel the explosion rumbling under their feet, their produce stalls remained orderly.
Fearful that another bomb might explode, police ordered shoppers and merchants out of the market. But some customers made last-minute purchases of parsley and bread as they left the market.
By late afternoon, bulldozers entered the market area to clear charred debris and spilled food from the streets.
Suspects rounded up
Israeli border police rounded up about two dozen men from the market area and held them about a block away in a pen fashioned from police barricades. The men sat on the pavement; their armed guards refused to let journalists talk with them.
Late last night, a government ministerial committee ordered Israel's armed forces to take action against suspected terrorists.
Israel's state-owned radio, quoting political sources, reported today that the order would allow defense and security forces to operate within Palestinian-controlled areas.
The radio said Israel would not be deterred from using special units in those areas if the Palestinian authority doesn't fight terrorism with determination.
The bomb blasts were the deadliest since Netanyahu was elected prime minister in May 1996. He campaigned on a promise of "peace with security."
The defeat of the Labor-led government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres was attributed to the series of bus bombings that hit Israel in spring 1996.
A leaflet distributed by Hamas called for the immediate release of its spiritual leader, the ailing Sheik Ahmad Yassin, and all other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The sheik was arrested by Israel in May 1989.
"The time to carry out our just demands starts from the date of this leaflet and ends at 9 o'clock Sunday evening, August 3," said the leaflet.
Pub Date: 7/31/97