Jerusalem bus bombing shatters relative silence on Israel’s terrorism front

April 20, 2016 Agencies
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The smoke billowing from a burning bus. The sirens of the first responders. The smell of explosives. All of those came back to haunt Jerusalem on Monday when a bomb detonated on Egged Bus 12 as it made its way from the Talpiot neighborhood to the city center.

Special report from Efrat Forsher, Yori Yalon, Lilach Shoval, Daniel Siryoti/Israel Hayom/JNS.org

The scene of the bus bombing on Moshe Baram Street in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90.

The scene of the bus bombing on Moshe Baram Street in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90.

Twenty-one people were injured in the blast, which shattered what had been relative silence on Israel’s terrorism front during the months of March and April.

As of Tuesday, two of the wounded individuals were in serious condition, another five were in moderate condition, and the others were described as lightly hurt. Two children, ages 10 and 13, were among the wounded. The bus driver was unharmed.

According to the Israeli security establishment, there were 171 “substantial” terror attacks in the country in August 2015, rising to 223 that September and 620 in October. Then the monthly number of attacks began decreasing, from 326 in November to 246 in December, 169 in January, 154 in February, 20 in March, and only three during the first week of April.

But Monday’s bus bombing provided a rude awakening. The blast took place at 5:50 p.m. on Moshe Baram Street, a major artery in southern Jerusalem. The street was jam-packed with cars during that evening’s rush hour. Flames engulfed the bus as a result of the explosion, and an empty bus nearby also caught fire. The billows of smoke could be seen from miles away.

“I got on the bus with my daughter; we heard a loud explosion and the entire bus was filled with smoke,” said Rachel Dadon, who sustained minor wounds. “The glass windows shattered. I looked for my daughter and I saw her burnt. I pray that she makes it through.” Dadon’s daughter, 15-year-old Eden, was rushed to the intensive care unit in a city hospital.

The bus driver, Moshe Levi, told Israel Hayom that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the minutes before the explosion.

“Everything was fine,” he said. “I was in a traffic jam on Moshe Baram Street and then suddenly a large explosion rocked the back of the bus. I opened the doors and shouted at everyone to run away.” Levi was admitted to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and treated for shock before being discharged.

Six firefighting crews arrived at the scene shortly after the explosion. “Despite the immense heat and the fear that there would be more explosions inside the bus, they charged ahead into the bus to find trapped passengers and began extinguishing the fire and contained it,” said Maj. Roni Sonino, who was in charge of the Israeli firefighters at the scene.

Meanwhile, medics arrived and began evacuating the wounded. Initially, Israeli police were not sure whether the explosion was deliberate or a result of a technical glitch. But an hour later, authorities were certain that an explosive device had detonated, and Jerusalem District Police Commander Maj. Gen. Yoram Halevy said there is “no doubt that this is a terror attack.”

One of the seriously wounded individuals carried no identification, but it is still unclear whether he perpetrated the attack. Israeli police sources said that they are investigating all available leads to determine who was behind the bombing. In addition, Jerusalem will be reinforced with more police as a result of the incident. Halevy said that law enforcement had received no concrete warning of an impending attack. He added that Jerusalem police forces have already taken steps to prepare for the upcoming Passover holiday.

“We are ready for the possibility that someone may try to perpetrate an attack in Jerusalem at any given moment,” he said.

Avraham Rivkind, the head of the Shock Trauma Unit at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem hospital, said the event took him back to the height of terrorism in the capital in the previous decade. “The X-ray images showed nails and fasteners penetrated the victims’ bodies, like in previous attacks in the capital,” he said.

Asher Bezalel, whose son Akiva was admitted to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for minor wounds, told Israel Hayom that “Akiva sat at the front and heard a massive explosion. He got scared and saw the driver open the door and people rushing out. He was in shock. I tried to call him but he didn’t respond. We were worried until we got a phone call from a paramedic, who said he was being evacuated and he was in good condition. Thank God, we had a miracle. Akiva is supposed to celebrate his bar mitzvah in a few months.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished the wounded a speedy recovery, and said, “We will hunt down those who prepared this device, we will reach those who dispatched them, and we will reach those who masterminded this; we will settle the score with those terrorists.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the number of terrorist attacks in Israel has dropped during the past couple of months because terrorists have realized that they achieve nothing.

“Usually it is the perpetrator who gets killed, not one of us. I believe a counter-terrorism policy that is motivated by rational thinking rather than gut reactions, one that is motivated by good judgement and responsibility, will ultimately prevail,” Ya’alon said.

President Reuven Rivlin said that “when we have a day like this—a terror tunnel is exposed in the morning thanks to the work of our dedicated security forces, and then civilians are rushed to hospitals while returning from work—it is clear that our fight against terrorism is not over; we are going to hunt down anyone who seeks to do us harm until peace is guaranteed.”

Gilad Bock, the head of the Israel Bar Association’s Health Forum and a paramedic, was the first to arrive at the scene. He took one of the victims who were seriously wounded to the hospital, and then, while standing outside the emergency room, he was asked to assist a woman in labor who was about to give birth in a car. “It was surreal,” he said. “Here I was, with one hand drenched in the blood of from the bus victim, and the other hand was covered with the blood of the placenta. The situation was very uplifting.”

Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of Australia’s  Anti-Defamation Commission commented on the attack saying: “This is a day of heartbreak and sorrow as the enemies of Israel and peace have struck again. We are horrified and shocked by this senseless act of terrorism. This crime is part of a continuing campaign of violence that has repeatedly engulfed Israel over the last few months has meant that Israelis cannot live their normal lives without the constant fear and threat of terror.

We call on the Australian government and governments worldwide to unequivocally condemn this attack and to demand that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas categorically denounce this evil act of violence and refrain from further inciting against Israel. Furthermore, we urge the United Nations and the Security Council to denounce this latest outrage as well as extremist groups such as Hamas who show contempt for human life.  We pray for the full and speedy recovery of the victims and our thoughts are with the people of Israel at this difficult time. The ADC stands in solidarity with the government of Israel as it acts to stop this wave  of terror and provide a sense of security to its citizens.”

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