A. BLAST KILLS 19 INCLUDING CHILDREN AND ARABS

The belt was packed with ball bearings, tiny metal marbles that tore through flesh. The explosion itself peeled back the top of the bus like a tin can. Inside the bus, the bodies of three women, one wearing a blue flowered dress, were still in their seats, but their heads were gone.

There were arms and legs, recognizable body parts, strewn around the bus, and a pool of blood on the road under the back door.  Student backpacks were still  on the seats.

This was the aftermath of the most lethal attack in Israel’s capital since 1996 and the second most lethal since the intifada began 20 months ago. 

With 19 dead, including at least two Arabs, and 70 wounded, Jerusalem is still reeling from the attack. Another bus bombing two weeks ago in northern Israel also killed 19. Both of these attacks are second to the Passover massacre in Netanya where 29 were killed at a hotel.

Tuesday’s bombing marked the 70th in the past 21 months.

B.  THE VICTIMS

Michael Lasri overslept Tuesday morning so he had to run to catch the bus to get to school.

“I left a little late, I usually get up earlier,” he said from his hospita bed.

The 15-year-old sat behind two of his friends on the crowded rush-hour bus with its usual passengers, teenagers on their way to nearby high schools, people on the way to work. It was just before 8 a.m.

The bus paused in the Arab village of Beit Safafa, where Michael recalled seeing a stocky young man wearing a baggy red shirt outside his trousers board the bus.

“I thought that’s what a terrorist should look like. He got on fast, he didn’t pay. He was wearing red. He came on the bus so fast, and I even thought maybe something was wrong in that one second,” Michael remembered.

Then the man exploded.

Michael ducked down behind the seat: “I felt like the hand of God was pushing me down.” When he was asked what he saw next, his answer was a chilling reminder of just how everyday this conflict has become.

“I saw what you see on TV all the time. All the different limbs.”

Fifteen of the 19 dead were from Gilo, a southern Jerusalem neighborhood often shot at by Palestinian gunmen from the Arab village of Beit Jalla across the valley.

The youngest of the dead was Galila Bugala, 11. She was born in Israel to a  family of Christian Ethiopian immigrants. At school, Galila was busy planning her class’s end-of-year party. This summer, her family intended to move to New York. The Bugalas did not hear about their daughter’s death until 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Bus driver Rahamim Zidkiyahu, 51, was not supposed to be driving the ill-fated bus, but switched with another driver. He had worked as a bus driver since 1975. He leaves behind a wife and four children.

C. THE PERPETRATOR

Some seek to justify suicide bombings saying that Palestinians act out of desperation and hopelessness.

But like many ‘martyrs’ before him, Mohammed al Ghoul, a 22-year-old, from the Al Faraa refugee camp near Nablus, didn’t quite fit the picture of desperate. From a relatively well-off family, Ghoul was in the first semester of a master’s degree program in Islamic studies at An Najah University.

“I am happy that my body will be the response for the attacks conducted by the Israelis and that my body will turn into an explosive shred mill against the Israelis,” his father quoted Mohammed al Ghoul’s suicide note as saying.  In his note, Ghoul said he’d tried twice before to stage attacks, but didn’t explain why he’d failed.

“How beautiful it is to make my bomb shrapnel kill the enemy. How

beautiful it is to kill and to be killed not to love death, but to struggle for life, to kill and be killed for the lives of the coming generation,” Ghoul said.

He dated the letter Saturday and went to see relatives one last time this weekend. One sister said only later did they realize he must have been saying goodbye.

In the refugee camp on Tuesday, his father, Haza al Ghoul, 65, said a

Hamas official called him to inform him that his son carried out the attack.

“He’s a martyr,” Haza said. “We have only to ask our God to be merciful with him…. Our sons want to die for our land, to get it back.”

D. THE ISRAELI RESPONSE

The words that came tumbling from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the sight of Tuesday’s terror attack were as raw and gripping as the scene itself.

Standing amid corpses in body bags, pools of blood and the bus’ skeleton, Sharon wondered aloud about the prospective Palestinian state, now high on the international agenda.

“The horrible pictures of the acts of Palestinian murder that we saw here are stronger than any words,” Sharon said. “It is interesting what kind of Palestinian state they have in mind. What kind of Palestinian state? What are they talking about? The horrible thing that we see here is a continuation of Palestinian terrorism, and against this terrorism we must fight and struggle, and that we will do.”

Sharon underscored the incongruity of talking statehood while Palestinians are blowing up children on their way to school.

IDF forces entered Palestinian towns overnight including Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Hebron, but were already starting to pull out of some of them on Wednesday morning. The military response was muted and is likely not Israel’s final answer to the Jerusalem massacre. The Israeli cabinet has approved a new military policy to seize Palestinian Authority territory in response to every future terror attack.

E. THE PALESTINIAN RESPONSE

The Palestinian Authority seemingly condemned the bombing, but it denied Israeli accusations that it was to blame while Palestinians broadcasters justified the attack.

“We condemn all attacks against civilians, whether Palestinians or Israelis,” said Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. “But at the same time, the Israeli government’s accusations against the Palestinian Authority about responsibility for the attack are rejected.”

Palestinian radio broadcasters justified the attack saying that the victims were mostly “colonists from the colony of Gilo which was built on land taken from our people in Bethlehem.”