Sunday, January 01, 2006

Suicide bomber was planning attack at kids' Hanukkah party
By Amos Harel

The suicide bomber who killed an Israel Defense Forces officer and two Palestinians at an army checkpoint near Tul Karm yesterday was apparently planning to blow himself up at one of the many children's events taking place in Tel Aviv during this week's Hanukkah holiday, army sources said.

Had the bomber not been stopped at the checkpoint, the attack would have been far more deadly, said the sources.

Three soldiers and seven Palestinians were wounded in the bombing. Of the soldiers, one was seriously wounded, while the others suffered only light injuries.

The slain officer was Lieutenant Ori Binamo, 21, of Nesher. Of the slain Palestinians, one was the taxi driver who was carrying the bomber, and army sources said that the other might have been the bomber's guide.

As of last night, no organization had claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the IDF believes that the Islamic Jihad network in the northern West Bank was responsible. That network, the most lethal one currently operating in the territories, has been responsible for the deaths of 26 Israelis since the start of the year, including all of those killed in suicide bombings inside Israel.

Although the IDF had no specific intelligence about yesterday's attack, it had received information indicating that Islamic Jihad was trying to infiltrate a suicide bomber into Israel. This information, as well as knowing that the many jam-packed Hanukkah events would make an attractive target, moved the army to order stepped-up counterterrorism efforts in the northern West Bank around Tul Karm and Qalqilyah this week, including extra patrols and surprise checkpoints.

Binamo's unit was responsible for one such checkpoint, at the southern entrance to the village of Irtah, near Tul Karm. At 9:15 A.M., a Palestinian taxi approached the checkpoint, and Binamo, the platoon commander, came over to inspect the occupants. Behind him stood the soldier whose job it was to guard him during the inspection.

Binamo ordered the three occupants to get out of the taxi, and thought that one, a young man of about 18, seemed suspicious. He therefore ordered the man to remove his overcoat. The Palestinian refused, and Binamo, now more suspicious, took a step or two toward him. At that point the Palestinian blew himself up, killing Binamo and the other two occupants of the taxi instantly. The soldier who was guarding the inspection was seriously injured, and two other soldiers, as well as the occupants of several nearby Palestinian vehicles, were lightly injured. The wounded were evacuated to hospitals for treatment.

IDF sappers who inspected the scene said that the bomber apparently wore a suicide belt containing more than 10 kilograms of explosives, packed with nails and iron scraps to make it more deadly. Because the blast occurred in an open area, its effect was mitigated. But had it gone off in an enclosed hall packed with parents and children, as was apparently intended, the effect would have been devastating.

Yesterday's suicide bombing was the fifth this year carried out by the Islamic Jihad network in the northern west Bank. The others were two bombings in Netanya's Sharon Mall, one in an open market in Hadera, and one at a Tel Aviv nightclub.

As a result of these attacks, the army has been waging an intensive campaign against the network for the last several months, during which time it has killed dozens of Jihad members and arrested hundreds. However, the network has evidently succeeded in replacing its killed and captured members, and is still in operation.

"For every suicide bomber that succeeds, we have stopped dozens who did not reach their targets," said Colonel Aharon Haliba, commander of the Ephraim Brigade. "We've hurt them [the Jihad network] badly, but it still has an active infrastructure. There is no decline in the volume of its attacks."

"I don't want to speak of a miracle," he continued, "but with all my sorrow over Ori, I have to tell the truth: He and his soldiers, with their bodies, prevented [a far more serious] attack. That is their job; that is our job."

Binamo, who will be buried in Haifa this morning, was considered an outstanding platoon commander. On Wednesday evening, just a day before the attack, his battalion commander had been asked to name his best platoon commander and unhesitatingly chose Binamo. "We have to convince him to remain in the army and become a company commander," the battalion commander said that evening.

Haliba said that the Palestinian Authority was also partly to blame for yesterday's attack, because "its security services are simply doing nothing."

Due to warnings of other attacks, the high alert along the seam between the West Bank and Israel will remain in force.


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