A lull of three months in large-scale terrorism against Israelis was shattered on Monday when a Palestinian suicide bomber set off a crude pipe bomb in a bus creeping through the morning rush hour here in a suburb of Tel Aviv, killing himself and at least five passengers and wounding 32 more. Three of the wounded were in critical condition.
The attack came on the day before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to have reached an agreement on extending Palestinian self-rule to much of the West Bank. While it was already evident before the blast that the deadline would not be met, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed that the attack would not deter the talks.
Rabin said the government had received information in recent months that militants planned a series of attacks as an agreement drew close. He said the fact that there had been a lull in attacks was due “first and foremost” to a series of counter-measures taken by Israel, but he also credited the Palestinian Authority with actions that had helped to hold off the attacks.
The bus was headed for Tel Aviv and was stopped in traffic near the Tel Aviv Diamond Exchange and several other high-rise buildings when the bomb tore through it at 8:40 a.m. Witnesses said that people and debris were hurled out of the windows, but the bus did not catch on fire.
By all accounts, ambulances and police arrived within minutes. They were followed soon after by reporters and dozens of men from the Orthodox Jewish burial society whose task it is at such moments to scour the entire site for shreds of human flesh, to ensure proper burial. Two bodies, a man slumped in his seat, and a youth, were visible inside the window-less bus for more than an hour after the explosion while police inspected it for additional explosives and evidence.
The attack also attracted several hundred demonstrators opposed to the negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs. They shrieked imprecations at police officials and especially at Rabin when he arrived at 11:30 a.m. under heavy guard for a brief inspection of the site.
The Israeli government promptly blocked Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza from entering Israel proper, and Arab workers who had already come across quickly returned to their areas for fear of retaliatory attacks. Rabin said the restriction would be temporary, but he did not say when it would be lifted. The government already limits the number of Gaza Palestinians who are allowed to work in Israel.