Tags: Israeli | Army | Forces | Retake | Bethlehem

Israeli Army Forces Retake Bethlehem

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

The action came a day after a suicide bomber, a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, blew up himself and others on a Jerusalem bus, killing 11 Israelis.

Witnesses in the town of Bethlehem, traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, said the bomber was from the area of Bethlehem.

The Isaeli forces also surrounded the Church of Nativity in the town to prevent militants from holing up the building, Palestinian witnesses said.

Earlier this year, more than 100 Palestinians, most of them militants had taken refuge in the church when the Israeli army carried out the Defensive Shield operation into most of the West Bank towns, including Bethlehem.

The situation was resolved after about 40 days, with deporting of 13 militants to several European countries and of about 25 militants to the Gaza Strip. Others in the church were released.

The Israeli army had pulled out from the town about three months ago and returned it to the Palestinian Authority, according to an agreement reached between Israel and Palestinians. Signers of the pact were former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former Palestinian Authority Minister of Interior Abdel Razaq Al Yahya.

The deal called for a gradual Israeli army pullout from all the Palestinians towns and villages occupied by the Israeli army since the Palestinian intifada began more than two years ago.

The Israeli army had pulled out from Bethlehem, then from Hebron, but further progress was halted when Palestinian militant groups resumed carrying out suicide bombing attacks against Israel.

Hebron was also reoccupied last week after Palestinian militants, members of the Islamic Jihad, shot dead in the town 12 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

In other developments, Israeli army tanks, armor vehicles and bulldozers supported by two helicopters stormed at predawn Friday the southern Gaza Strip village of Al Garara, a Palestinian public security spokesman said.

Residents in the village said the Israeli army destroyed the house of the family of an Islamic Hamas militant who was involved in carrying out armed attacks against soldiers and Jewish settlers.

Police in Jerusalem identified Thursday's suicide bomber as Na'el Abu-Hillayel, 22. He boarded the No. 20 green Egged bus at about 7 a.m. and drew no particular attention as it made its way through a southern Jerusalem neighborhood in rush hour traffic.

Also on the bus were many students heading for different schools along the route to the Old City's Jaffa Gate.

U.S. President George W. Bush, in Prague, Czech Republic, for the NATO summit that admitted seven new member states, condemned the attack.

The Palestinian Authority also issued a condemnation. In a statement, the authority said the victims of such attacks were "ordinary people going about their normal lives, and attacking them is condemned morally and politically. This attack is really hurting the image of our people in the world."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the authority's position has always been clear: It condemns all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians.

The blast blew out the bus's windows and caved the roof. It sent pieces flying across the road, damaging other cars. Mangled human parts were lying beside schoolbags. Books and notebooks spilled out among freshly prepared sandwiches.

Maor Kimchee, 15, was relatively lucky. He had been sitting in the back of the bus when the bomb went off. Shrapnel slightly injured his leg, above the ankle.

"I got up and jumped out the window," he said.

A taxi driver took him to the hospital and on the way the youth used the driver's cell phone to call his mother, who works in the Justice Ministry.

"Mom, there was an attack on the bus. Don't worry. I was injured lightly on my leg," he said.

It was the second time Maor witnessed a suicide bombing attack. About 10 months ago, he was in a car when another suicide bomber blew himself up on King George Street in central Jerusalem.

It was a second time also for Tova Yitzhaki, who had been sitting in the back of the bus. Flying glass injured her left eye.

On Jan. 22, she had been standing with her sister in central Jerusalem's Jaffa Street when a gunman opened fire, she told Channel 1 TV.

Thursday's suicide bombing was the 95th since the intifada began in 2000, Channel 2 TV said.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The action came a day after a suicide bomber, a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, blew up himself and others on a Jerusalem bus, killing 11 Israelis. Witnesses in the town of Bethlehem, traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, said the bomber...
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Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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