September 24, 1997 in Nation/World

Suicide Bombers Were Palestinians, Israelis Say Government Claims West Bank Raiders Struck Jerusalem

Serge Schmemann New York Times
 

The Israeli government said on Tuesday that four of the five suicide bombers who struck in Jerusalem this summer were Palestinians from the West Bank. The identity of the fifth was not announced, but he was also believed to be a West Bank Palestinian.

The men were identified 10 days after Israeli security forces arrested relatives of the suspects. The investigation reportedly involved DNA testing of the relatives, some of whom appeared on Israeli television on Tuesday describing how they had been made to give blood.

The announcement of the identifications was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, and he used the disclosures to forcefully repeat his charge that the Palestinian Authority was not doing enough for Israel’s security.

He noted that the men had not come from abroad, as the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had suggested, that they had escaped from a Palestinian prison, and that they were on a list of 88 Palestinians whom Israel had asked Arafat to arrest.

“Had they arrested them, they would have saved many innocent people who died in vain,” Netanyahu said.

However, all four of those identified were said to be residents of Asira al-Shamaliya, a town near Nablus that is under Israeli security control. It was there that Israeli forces concentrated their searches, seizing several suspected members of the Islamic movement Hamas, whose military wing claimed responsibility for the bombings.

One Hamas leader in Gaza, Abdelaziz Rantissi, accused Netanyahu of avoiding responsibility by blaming the Palestinian Authority. “The aggression he carried out on the village of Asira al-Shamaliya is the real answer, that it was and still is under Netanyahu’s security control,” Rantissi said.

There was no immediate comment from Arafat, who met with his Cabinet late into the evening. The head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Services in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, confirmed that the four men named by Israel had escaped from a Palestinian prison. He said Israel had not notified him of their identification as bombers.

The men named in the Israeli statement were all men in their 20s from Asira al-Shamaliya: Moawiya Jarara, 23, Bashar Sawalha, 24, Youssef Shouli, 22, and Tawfiq Yassin, 25, whose identification was described as “almost positive.” An Israeli television channel identified the fifth as Mohammed Abu Hanoud, and said Israeli forces were still investigating his connections.

Two men set off bombs in Jerusalem’s vegetable market on July 30, and three others detonated charges on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall on Sept. 4. The blasts killed 20 people, and led to stern demands from the Israeli government that Arafat crack down on militant Islamic organizations.


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