First suicide bombing by Israeli Arab

Monday, September 10, 2001

Associated Press WriterJERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel said Monday it would hold high-level talks with the Palestinians, despite a spate of deadly attacks by Arab militants, including the first suicide bombing carried out by an Israeli Arab. Five Israeli Jews and three Arab militants were killed and dozens wounded in those attacks.

A senior Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would meet Tuesday in Israeli territory. He did not give a precise location, but one possible venue was the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

However, Arafat adviser Nabil Aburdeneh said disagreements remained, with Israel insisting on Erez and the Palestinians demanding the talks be held in Egypt.

The involvement of an Arab citizen in a suicide attack further raised the anxiety level in Israel. The country has been badly shaken by nearly a year of fighting with the Palestinians and has absorbed dozens of terror attacks.

Unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli Arabs can move freely, making it much more difficult for the Israeli security forces to detect an assailant in their midst. Security officials have warned of growing ties between Israeli Arabs and Palestinian militant groups in recent months.

The Islamic militant group Hamas announced Monday that it recruited the bomber, Muhammed Shaker Habishi. In a leaflet distributed in the West Bank town of Jenin, the group boasted that the attack proved its ability to strike deep within Israel, despite stringent Israeli closures.

Writing in the Israeli daily Maariv, commentator Hemi Shalev wrote: "For much of the public, a suicide bomber from among the Israeli Arabs is a nightmare that has come true."

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of 6.5 million.

The assailant, Habishi, was a member of the Islamic Movement, a legal organization in Israel.

The movement, which is growing in popularity, runs a network of social services and is involved in municipal politics. It also collects money to help alleviate the growing poverty among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Naveh said that certain branches of the Islamic movement have become increasingly radical and should be banned. "We will have to take those precautionary measures to stop the extremists," Naveh said.

Kamel Khatib, a senior figure in the Islamic movement, condemned the bombing and said Habashi did not represent the movement. "They (the extremists) should understand that they are weeds and not part of the Islamic movement that includes tens of thousands of members," Khatib told Israel radio.

Habashi's son was arrested Monday on suspicion he drove his father from their home village of Abu Snan in the Galilee region of northern Israel to the nearby coastal town of Nahariya, security officials said.

Habashi blew himself up Sunday morning near a train station in Nahariya, killing himself and three people and wounding dozens. As the train pulled into the station, soldiers and civilians stepped onto the platform, and the bomber moved toward them and detonated his explosives in the crowd.

"I was standing nearby and I heard a great explosion. It took me a minute to come to my senses and then I saw glass everywhere and I saw people running like crazy," witness Avi Levy told Israeli television. "People were crying and hysterical."

Habashi's blue Israeli identity card was found at the scene. However, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said Monday the final identification would only be made once lab tests had been completed.

The second bomb went off at an intersection outside the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, a frequent target of Palestinian attackers. The bomb obliterated a car, killing the driver, and set fire to several vehicles.

Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire during an attempt to plant a bomb near a fence in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said.

Sunday began with a Palestinian drive-by shooting attack in the West Bank's Jordan Valley in which an Israeli teacher and a taxi driver were killed. In response, the army barred Palestinian cars from using the Jordan Valley road.

Israel responded to the attacks with helicopter missile strikes at Palestinian security installations in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin and Qabatiyeh, damaging buildings but causing no injuries.

Overnight, Israel fire tank shells and machine guns at a Palestinian elementary school on the outskirts of the village of Tayassir in the northern West Bank, witnesses said. Four of 10 classrooms were demolished, a teacher said. The army said shots had been fired from the school at a nearby Israeli army camp. It confirmed the firing of machine guns, but said no tank shells were used.

On Monday, the army fired anti-tank missiles at a Palestinian police post in the West Bank village of Tamoun, killing a Palestinian policeman and wounding four. The army said the missiles were in retaliation for Sunday's attacks.

The more than 11 months of fighting have killed 613 people on the Palestinian side and 170 on the Israeli side.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: