Israel Shocked at Blast's Child Toll

Published August 19, 2003

| Associated Press

Strollers were scattered near the stricken bus, medics carried away children with blood-smeared faces and a baby girl died in a hospital before doctors could find her parents.

At least five children were among the 18 dead in Tuesday's homicide bombing by a Palestinian militant who blew himself up on a Jerusalem (search) bus. Forty children were among more than 100 people injured.

The attack was the 100th Palestinian homicide bombing against Israelis since the latest round of fighting began in September 2000. The youth of the victims stands out in that grim list, and the government said the choice of target was particularly cold-blooded.

"You have to remember the target of the attack, a moving bus bringing families who had been praying at the Western Wall (search)," said Dore Gold, a spokesman for the Israeli government.

"It is important for people to understand that the children who died and were injured were specifically targeted by the homicide bomber who saw them," Gold said.

The Islamic militant group Hamas identified the attacker as Raed Mesk, a 29-year-old mosque preacher and father of two young children, ages two and three, from the West Bank (search) city of Hebron.

On Tuesday evening, he boarded the double-length No. 2 bus, which had started out at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine, and was headed to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Har Nof. The bomber struck as the bus drove along a major thoroughfare in central Jerusalem.

Several crying children with tattered clothes and blood-smeared faces were led away from the scene. One paramedic cradled a little girl in his arms, while television pictures showed doctors leaning over a bloodied infant in an ambulance.

Shlomi Arush, a 19-year-old Israeli who was about 30 yards from the bus when the bomb went off, said many children were left lying on the ground while others fled the scene.

"One boy ran up to a man getting a heart massage. I assume it was his father," Arush said.

Witnesses said the blast blew out the windows of a second bus traveling in front of the bombed vehicle, injuring at least two girls. Another report said that among the passengers were members of a family who had celebrated a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood for boys, at the wall.

"About half of the 41 injured who came to our hospital were children," Professor Yonatan Levy, director of the Shaarei Tzedek hospital, told Channel One television.

He said the two most seriously injured were a girl with a head injury and an 8-month-old baby girl on a respirator whose parents could not be found. Israel Army Radio said the baby later died.

"There are at least two families where three family members were injured, mostly lightly, and they are lying next to each other in the emergency room," he said.

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