Published May 18, 2003
JERUSALEM – The sun was just rising on an Israeli workday as the No. 6 bus rumbled along Sunday. A soldier, wearing headphones, dozed in the back. From her seat, another soldier, like many edgy bus riders in Israel, eyed fellow passengers, but saw nothing to cause alarm.
As the bus neared a busy intersection, a man wearing the white prayer shawl and skull cap of religious Jews (search) detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing seven passengers. The force of the blast punched a hole in the front of the bus and showered the pavement with glass.
The gush of metal and fire tore through the driver's legs. He lost control and the bus fishtailed, smashing a bus shelter. The vehicle filled with smoke and then screams of panic and pain.
The bodies of the dead remained sitting upright in their seats, including a woman with short, dark hair whose head slumped back and whose legs were still crossed. One man's body leaned from a broken window.
The attacker struck a few minutes before 6 a.m. at one of Jerusalem (search)'s largest intersections, wedged between the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat (search) and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 war but is claimed by the Palestinians.
During nearly 32 months of violence, attackers frequently have struck the busy intersection, whose sidewalks often are crowded with hitchhikers and soldiers waiting for buses. Three other suicide bombers have killed seven bystanders there.
In November 2001, a gunman sprayed bullets into a bus at the intersection, killing two people. Several car bombs also have shaken the neighborhood without causing injuries.
Thirty minutes after Sunday's bus attack, a second suicide bomber, apparently unable to pass police roadblocks, detonated his explosives not far up the street, in an Arab neighborhood on the city's outskirts. He killed himself, but no one else was injured.
Sgt. Dekel Shai, 19, who had shut his eyes in the back of the bus on his way back to base after a weekend break, was jolted awake by the blast. He waved down a police car and returned to help the wounded. He tried to pry open the front door, but his hands kept slipping on the blood-soaked surface.
Shai said he used the tourniquet that all soldiers carry in their first aid kits to stop the bleeding in the bus driver's torn leg. The driver, Yitzhak Hayat, in his 50s, screamed in pain.
"He was panicking, so I just kissed him on the forehead to quiet him," recalled Shai from a hospital bed where he was under observation. "There were people panicking who I really wanted to help but I didn't know how."
Hayat was in serious but stable condition following surgery at a Jerusalem hospital.
Sgt. Vered Loyevsky, 19, another soldier on her way back to the base, said every time she travels by bus she keeps her M-16 rifle close at hand, knowing the weapon might be her only chance of stopping a potential bomber.
"When you are a soldier you have a lot of responsibility," she said.
Loyevsky followed the same ritual Sunday, but saw nothing suspicious. She was recovering at a hospital from shrapnel wounds to her leg.
Sunday's bus bombing was the first such attack in Jerusalem since November. Bombers, some disguised as Orthodox Jews or Israeli soldiers, have waged 93 suicide attacks, killing 357 bystanders, since the violence erupted in September 2000.
Most attacks are carried out by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement