Israel's Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer authorized a plan Wednesday for a military response to the lunchtime bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. According to Israeli media reports, he approved the plan during security talks with the Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon.
A bombing in a crowded cafeteria at the Mount Scopus campus of Jerusalem's Hebrew University killed at least seven people Wednesday noon and injured at least 86, 14 seriously. Israeli medical sources said most of the wounded were between the ages of 18 and 30. Most of the injuries were from shrapnel and from the collapse of the cafeteria ceiling.
Eye witnesses initially said they believed a suicide bomber was responsible, but Israeli police said evidence suggested that someone planted the bomb.
"We're talking about an explosive device, apparently not a suicide bomber. It is being checked," said Jerusalem's Deputy Police Chief Ilan Franco. "Around 1:40 p.m., an explosion was heard in a cafeteria on the campus," Franco said.
Though classes were not in session, students were taking exams at the time of the blast, and the cafeteria, situated in the university's Frank Sinatra building, was crowded with diners, Haaretz reported.
Some of those in the cafeteria were foreign students taking summer school classes. "There was a boom, everything went up in the air," Lee Seung Jae, a Korean student, told Reuters. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that one of the dead was an American citizen. Israel Radio reported that two of the dead were Israelis and the rest were foreign nationals.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, denying reports that it was a suicide bombing. The military wing of Hamas has repeatedly sworn to avenge the assassination last week of its military chief Salah Shehadeh in an Israeli air raid that also killed 14 children and a number of adult civilians. "Now (the Israelis) are paying the price of killing our children, women and leaders," said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a leading Hamas figure.
The Palestinian Authority issued a condemnation of the blast. But in a statement, the PA led by Yasser Arafat said it considered Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "as being responsible for this cycle of terror."
"The Palestine National Authority absolutely condemns the attack against Hebrew University today," it said in the statement, which also accused "Sharon's army (of) continuing its policy of destruction, killing and collective punishment".
In Gaza Wednesday night, some 5,000 Hamas supporters rallied in support of the bombing, calling for more attacks and boasting more suicide bombers were on the way.
The United States condemned the bombing attack and said President George W. Bush would not give up on trying to bring peace to the Middle East. "The president condemns the attack this morning in Jerusalem in the strongest terms," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "This is a horrific act of terror."
"Campuses around the world are places of learning and should be places of peace. And this terrorist attack underscores again the need for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership to take action to halt terrorism so that peace has a chance in the Middle East," Fleischer said.
"The president is still determined to focus on finding a way to achieve peace in the Middle East but he condemns this attack in the strongest terms," he said.
The European Union condemned "in the strongest terms" the bombing, while defending anew its aid to the Palestinian authority. In a statement, the EU expressed condolences to relatives of the victims and to all Israelis.
"Innocent civilians have again been targeted by a meaningless act of terror," it said. The EU strongly urged the PA "to exert maximum effort to prevent the terrorist attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice."
The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered his personal condemnation and condolences from Brunei, where he was participating in the ASEAN regional forum. "No cause can possibly justify the blind killing of innocent civilians," he said. "This continuous cycle of violence has become unbearable and must be brought to an end."
The blast came as the EU's executive Commission announced it was granting 9.5 million euros ($ 9.3 million) in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, raising this year's overall amount to 18 million euros ($ 17.7 million).
For his part, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was also "appalled" by the latest violence, a UN spokesman said.
"The attack on Mount Scopus makes it evident that Israel is battling for the right to get on a bus, go to a market or sit in a cafeteria without the fear of being struck down by Palestinian terror," said David Baker, an official in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.(Albawaba.com)
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