Israeli Military Blows Up Attacker's Home
By MARK LAVIE
The Associated Press
Friday, January 30, 2004; 9:26 AM
JERUSALEM - Israeli forces briefly raided the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Friday and dynamited the home of a Palestinian who blew up a Jerusalem bus - stopping far short of a large-scale reprisal customary after a deadly suicide attack.
Israel's leadership was divided over how hard to hit back but appeared to have decided on a measured response after a meeting Thursday between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
In the Gaza Strip, the Islamic militant Hamas group belatedly claimed responsibility Friday for the bombing, which killed 10 Israelis and wounded more than 50. A rival faction linked the Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement initially said it sent the bomber.
If Hamas was behind the attack, it would mark a significant change in tactics. Hamas had held off on carrying out bombings in Israel for nearly six months, during Egyptian-brokered efforts to reach a cease-fire with Israel.
In another sign the Islamic militant group is changing course, its leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin declared Friday that his group is making an all-out effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Yassin spoke a day after a prisoner swap between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. Israel released more than 400 prisoners, mostly Palestinians, in exchange for an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.
Yassin appeared to be trying to explain why Hamas has failed to free its prisoners from Israeli jails. "The (Palestinian) factions will not spare any effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers," Yassin said outside a Gaza City mosque after Muslim prayers. "And they tried many times, but the Israeli soldier today is as cautious as a bird is about its chick."
About 7,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli custody. "They (Israelis) only understand the language of force, and they will never give us our freedom," Yassin said.
Raanan Gissin, a Sharon adviser, returned the warning, saying Israel had the means to respond to such kidnappings. He did not elaborate.
"With the same tenacity and determination that we use to return prisoners to Israel, we will get at those who kidnap soldiers," Gissin said. "And our long arm has always reached them."
Yassin offered no explanation for his group's delayed claim of responsibility for the Jerusalem bombing. On Thursday, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, an armed group with ties to Fatah, said it dispatched the bomber, Palestinian policeman Ali Jaara, from the Aida refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
The blast ripped apart the bus a block from Sharon's official residence; he was not home at the time.
Israel's response was less harsh compared to the large-scale military raids that have followed deadly bombings in the past.
Analysts said Sharon may be trying to keep the conflict at a low level during the U.S. election year.
© 2004 The Associated Press