July 21, 2012 in Nation/World

Israelis mourn victims

Terrorist attack in Bulgaria killed five
Aron Heller Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Family and friends attend the funeral Friday in Petah Tikva, Israel, for Itzik Kolengi, 28, who was killed and his wife injured in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

JERUSALEM – Devastated mourners grasped at dirt atop fresh graves and screamed in agony Friday as they buried the five Israeli victims of a bombing in Bulgaria – an attack that Israel has blamed on Iran and its proxy group Hezbollah.

Two days after the deadly blast in a popular vacation spot, investigators in Bulgaria and in several other countries were still struggling to confirm the attacker’s identity.

Bulgarian prosecutors said the attacker had short hair, not the long hair seen in the security video footage captured of him at the airport. A witness said he appeared to be wearing a wig.

The victims’ coffins were received early Friday in a military ceremony at Israel’s international airport. Seventeen Israelis remain in hospitals.

Childhood friends Itzik Kolengi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 27, were buried in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva.

Kolengi’s wife, Gilat, was wounded in the attack and remains hospitalized. The couple has an infant daughter.

“I promise you that the family and I will watch forever over your wife, Gilat, and your amazing daughter, Noya, who looks exactly like you, and we’ll raise her just as you would have wanted,” Kolengi’s brother David said during his eulogy.

Menashe’s wife, who was also wounded in the attack, attended the funeral in a wheelchair. They too have an infant son.

Nearby, in Rishon Lezion, hundreds of mourners joined the family of Cochava Shriki, a 42-year-old woman who had recently become pregnant after years of fertility treatments.

In the northern Israeli town of Acre, Maor Harush, 26, and his close friend Elior Price, 24, were laid to rest. A third friend remains hospitalized in serious condition.

Israeli and American officials have blamed the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for Wednesday’s bombing, which killed five vacationing Israelis, along with a Bulgarian bus driver and the attacker, in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas.

In TV interviews Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he was certain who carried it out.

“Hezbollah is behind the attack, it was part of a series of attacks,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “We know that Iran is behind it all. What we don’t know is who the actual man is.”

Iran denied responsibility for the attack, which threatened to further escalate a shadow war between the two countries over allegations that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes only.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters the bomb was in the backpack and detonated in the luggage compartment of the bus. The bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four to seven days, he said.

The Islamic militant group has not commented on the attack.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the accusation “baseless.”

The U.S. intelligence community has a “high degree of confidence that this was carried out by Hezbollah,” presumably by a cell located in Bulgaria, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “This was researched and target was prepped,” the official said, hallmarks of the discipline and expertise of the group.

However, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Friday the U.S. government has not established with certainty who was behind the attack.

“The attack does bear some of the hallmarks of Hezbollah, but we are not in a position to make any final determination,” Little said. He declined to say what aspect of the attack resembled the methods or other features of Hezbollah.

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