RISHON LETZION, Israel – As retirees played cards along the edge of a tree-lined public park and young Russian immigrants gathered nearby, a blond young man mingled in the crowd before blowing himself up in a city hit by a homicide attack just two weeks ago.
As dominoes and cards flew, elderly immigrants fell to the ground. The busy promenade packed with Israelis young and old was splattered with blood and wounded people.
Police said a teen-age boy and an elderly man were killed shortly after 9:00 p.m., along with the Palestinian bomber who had bleached his hair in an effort to blend in with a heavily Russian population. Nearly 30 people were wounded.
The powerful blast, heard blocks away, ripped apart a bright green awning over Rothschild Street where groups of men gathered nightly to sip tea and play cards, dominoes and backgammon. A body covered with a black blanket lay under the canopy.
Luba Zibulin heard the blast from her family's nearby home.
"We thought Rishon was a safe city, we weren't afraid of anything," said the 15-year-old girl, whose family immigrated from Tajikistan nine years ago. Her grandfather usually plays chess with friends on the stricken promenade. Her brother, Anatoli, was working in the city's industrial area, where another bomber struck the city on May 7. "He was very scared," she said.
Despite the recent attack, residents of this city of 200,000, 10 miles south of Tel Aviv, were enjoying a warm evening in the downtown area Wednesday and police said there hadn't been any warnings of imminent danger in the area. Just three nights earlier, a bombing in the city of Netanya left two Israelis and the bomber dead, and dozens wounded.
Still, Israelis, who have suffered nearly 60 homicide attacks during 19 months of violence with the Palestinians, have been on the lookout for attackers.
Pavel Zuhama was nearby when the bomber struck. "I was sitting in the garden and I saw the man blow up," the 13-year-old boy said.
Along the edges of the city park in Rishon Letzion, where white ducks swim in the pond and giant palm and eucalyptus trees shade wooden benches, young couples and friends cried as they found one another after the blast. Police turned the park itself into a makeshift headquarters for investigators and emergency workers.
Giant floodlights shone onto the spot where the blast occurred, while forensics experts wearing white plastic suits scoured the scene for evidence and religious volunteers scraped the tables and pavement for remnants of flesh.
Shmuel Voller sometimes went with his grandfather to play on Rothschild Street. On Wednesday, he was on his way to a shopping mall.
"Suddenly there was an explosion, everyone ran away, there was lots of smoke and it smelled like firecrackers," the 16-year-old said, adding he covered his ears with his hands and ran.
"There will be more attacks here, our city is not safe. I think my mom won't allow me to come here anymore," he said.