The scene of the deadly suicide bombings Sunday in Tel Aviv was transformed today into a boisterous hub of street cleaners, police officers, social workers, carpenters and painters who turned out en masse to help the victims pick up the pieces of their homes, their businesses and their lives.
Twenty-four people, including the two bombers, died in the double blasts -- which occurred 30 seconds apart in southern Tel Aviv at a crowded bus kiosk and at a money exchange on a pedestrian boulevard 200 yards away -- making it the second-deadliest attack in Israel since the start of the Palestinian uprising more than 27 months ago. Israeli police said late today that of the 20 dead identified, 14 were Israelis and six were foreigners -- two from Romania and one each from Ukraine, Bulgaria, China and Ghana. More than 100 people were injured, and 57 remained hospitalized. Officials today also revised the death toll of bystanders to 22; earlier reports said 23 were killed.
In response to the attack, Israel today barred Palestinian leaders from traveling to London for a Jan. 14 conference on peace talks and Palestinian reform that Prime Minister Tony Blair planned to host. Israeli officials also announced that they would prevent the Palestinian Central Council from meeting on Thursday to ratify a new Palestinian constitution, which contains many reforms favored by the United States, including establishing the post of prime minister.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Jonathan Peled, said Israel's security cabinet also moved for a "clampdown on a few Palestinian colleges or universities that are hotbeds of terrorism" to subdue "dangerous elements." He said that people could be arrested and parts of the campuses closed, but that the policy was not aimed at wholesale closings.
The attack Sunday occurred in a neighborhood crowded with foreign workers, many here illegally, who have poured into Israel in the last decade to replace Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who have been prevented from traveling to jobs inside Israel because of security concerns. As many as 400,000 people from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia live and work in Israel. Perhaps half of them are here illegally, lured by the boom economy of the 1990s and largely tolerated by the government, immigration experts and officials said.
Last night and today, social workers from the municipality and counselors from public and private aid groups distributed fliers in English, Spanish, Romanian, Chinese and other languages urging injured foreigners to seek medical help. Israel's immigration police, which because of the plummeting economy have launched a campaign to deport low-paid foreign workers, announced that people seeking hospital treatment would not be expelled, even if they were in Israel illegally. The labor minister ordered the National Insurance Institute to offer expense-paid trips to Israel to the families of injured foreign workers.
It was unclear whether the government's measures would calm the misgivings of illegal workers.
"It's all just a performance for the Israeli public," said Adi Laxer, the foreign workers coordinator for Kav La'Oved, or the Hotline for Migrant Workers. "As soon as things quiet down, the campaign to throw them out will resume."
"In the past, there have been cases where hospitals reported foreign workers [to police] and it led to their expulsion," said Shabtai Gold, head of public outreach for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which operates a walk-in medical clinic near the blast sites that specializes in helping migrant workers. "Their whole experience with authority has been one of distrust."
Israeli security officials said that they believe foreign workers are not targets. But they congregate in densely packed, easily accessible public places, where suicide bombers can blend into the crowd and have deadlier impact. Of the approximately 700 people killed in attacks by Palestinian militants in the past 27 months, 27 were foreigners, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the human rights organization B'Tselem.
Today, hordes of police officers, television crews and gawkers stood and stared at the damage. Workers used trowels to fill in pockmarks and scrape plaster across the facades of buildings on the wide pedestrian boulevard that stretches about 500 yards between Tel Aviv's old and new bus stations.
A small shrine with dozens of memorial candles was set up outside the money exchange, near the McChina restaurant and carryout.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, on Sunday asserted responsibility for the blasts and identified the two bombers as young men from Nablus, a center of militant activity in the West Bank about 35 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. The group said in a statement that the bombings were in retaliation for the Israeli army's recent destruction of houses belonging to the families of Palestinian militants in Nablus.
Today, Fatah and other elements of al-Aqsa denied responsibility and said the two bombers were not on their membership rolls. A strongly worded statement by the Palestinian Authority said, "The leadership declares its insistence and determination to confront firmly -- out of a principled moral and political belief -- the perpetrators and planners of these operations and those who support them."
The bomb on the pedestrian boulevard exploded less than 10 yards from a pub where another bomber killed himself and wounded 32 people a year ago. A third attack along the pedestrian mall occurred in July, about 200 yards west of Sunday's blast; two men blew themselves up in tandem, killing five people.
The brick walkway, which is lined with shade trees and lampposts, is home to a hodgepodge of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, bars, sex shops, international calling centers, money exchanges and budget clothing stores that cater to Israel's foreign workers -- many of whom live in group apartments. Stores have 50-pound sacks of rice stacked in front like sandbags, along with shelves piled high with noodles and spices from the Far East.
Because of its low-price stores, the area also draws many Israeli shoppers. Many storefront signs are in multiple languages; a butcher advertises meats in Romanian, Hebrew, English and Chinese.
"There's nothing to do -- we will continue this way. Who lives lives, and who dies dies," said Oliver Lupu, an illegal worker in one of the shops who said he came to Israel from Romania six years ago. "You don't know where the next attack is going to be. You drink a cup of coffee, you go to the bathroom and boom!"
"It can happen to anyone -- it doesn't matter if you're Israeli or foreign," said a 31-year-old from Ghana who would give his name only as Francis.
"I'm going to buy a phone card to call the Philippines because they are very worried," said Daniel Agayao, 31, who said he had a worker's visa and was in Israel legally.
Some counted their blessings.
"I was very, very lucky," said Itzik Teva, 48, the owner of a barbershop 60 feet from the first bomb blast, at a busy bus stop. He had just seated a customer, Teva said, "and then 'Boom!' -- there was an explosion" that blew out his two plate-glass windows and sent pieces of shrapnel flying.
"We escaped to a corner, and then another explosion came, 'Boom!' and the plaster from the ceiling fell all around us. If I had been standing at the door, I would have been killed."
Researchers Eetta Prince-Gibson and Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.