Another Palestinian human bomb blew up another crowd of innocents Monday, this time killing 14 and wounding 130 in a holiday shopping street full of costumed children.
It was the second consecutive day of carnage, the fourth in just more than a week and one more than this nerve-shattered nation could take without a significant change of course.
Terror struck the young this time. At the scene: dead and injured children, an empty baby carriage and a single tiny shoe left behind.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, as it did for three others in the last nine days. But this attack put a new insidious wrinkle on the terror as an anonymous killer went on foot to mix with parents and children under a big neon billboard advertising McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
“It is Purim, where mothers come to the mall with children in their costumes,” said Health Minister Efraim Sneh. “It’s no coincidence that they came to this spot.”
Hamas’ four recent suicide attacks have killed 60 people in all. Monday’s explosion came only a day after a bomber riding a Jerusalem bus killed 18 people and wounded seven.
A weary and grim Prime Minister Shimon Peres suggested strongly that he would dispatch Israeli forces into territories ruled by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Peres ordered the closure of any Palestinian institution with links to Hamas and closure between the Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and those communities overseen by the Israeli army.
“It is a type of terrorism that requires special means,” Peres said. “I have been asked where we will operate. My answer is everywhere. I have been asked if we shall break the law. One law we shall not break: the law of national and personal safety in the state of Israel. It is legal for a nation to defend itself.”
Peres said that Palestinian police have captured the organizers responsible for the three bombings prior to Monday’s attack.
He gave no details.
Arafat said he would cooperate fully with Israel in going after Palestinian militants. He also said he hoped Israel wouldn’t break off peace talks.
“I hope that we will not reward these terrorists,” Arafat said in Gaza City.
The scene Monday was far different than the recent bus bombings. It was in the open air amid a glass-walled canyon of high-end boutiques, and it left behind so much fallen glass that workers filled the beds of five pickup trucks and two dump trucks.
The force of the blast, which occurred at 4:10 p.m., was so great that it left hundreds of teeth-like marks in the asphalt on Dizengoff Street, only a few blocks from the site of the deadly October 1994 bus bombing.
The force also sent victims through the air.
“I saw someone flying and then I saw people, bodies, on the ground like insects. Then I fainted,” said Sofia Katsun, 47, sitting in a waiting room at Ichilov Hospital. She said she was only about 30 feet from the explosion.
For Haya Cohen, the images of wounded children hurt the most. “I saw bodies of children. I saw hands and legs like I don’t know what. The thing that really got me was a little Trakline shoe that must have belonged to a small child,” she said.
Nearby was the empty baby carriage.
Reuven Gal, former chief psychologist of the Israel Defense Forces, worries that Israelis will feel so insecure they will consider leaving the country or lash out indiscriminately.
“It’s so different from anything else that we’ve been confronted with in the past,” Gal said. “War is one story. Being hit in the center of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by an unidentified enemy is another.”
The bombings threaten what is left of Middle East peace talks. Sunday, Peres declared war on Hamas. Monday, Peres suspended talks with Syria and ordered the Israeli delegates to return home. The attacks also have deeply hurt Peres’ political chances in the May 29 elections, which he had called only a few weeks ago as a referendum for peace.
For a Peres win, he needs help from Arafat, he needs no more bombings, and he needs a strong security strategy.
“No one wants to hear about peace,” said Dore Gold, a political strategist in Tel Aviv. “They only want to hear about security.”
Graphic: Nine days of terror