Attack Might Have Been Prevented, Israel Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - At least 15 people were murdered and nearly 100 wounded when suicide bombers blew themselves at about the same time on two buses in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on Tuesday afternoon.

Israel said the attack might have been prevented if its controversial security fence had been completed.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack - the first since 11 people were killed in a suicide attack at the Ashdod seaport five months ago. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon planned to meet with his security advisors to determine Israel's reaction.

A suicide bomber on the number 6 bus blew himself up around 3 p.m., near Beersheva's city hall. Within minutes, bus number 12 also exploded.

Ya'akov Cohen was the driver on bus number 12 and saw the first bus explode.

"I stopped at the traffic light. I saw bus line six to my left. He was in the leftmost lane, the middle was an empty lane and I was in the right hand lane," Cohen said in a radio interview from the hospital.

"Suddenly I saw an explosion, and I said, God, for sure it's a terrorist... I don't know why, I really don't know why I went forward 10 meters. I didn't continue. I didn't [try to] escape from the place. I opened the doors. Many off the bus. Suddenly I heard a great explosion, and I said 'another one." Cohen said he turned around and saw that the explosion had ripped apart his bus. What he saw, he said, could not be described on the radio.

Following the attack, Sharon said "the fight against terror will continue with full strength."

Sharon's office issued a rare statement saying that the prime minister would hold a "security consultation" following the terror attacks. It said that Sharon had spoken with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon and secret service director Avi Dichter "on ways to act against terrorism."

Palestinian Authority Minister Saeb Erekat said the PA condemned what he called "any attacks that target civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinians."

In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, terrorists distributed a leaflet claiming that the attacks were to avenge the Israel's targeted killings last spring of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor in Gaza Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Israel was quick to point out that the controversial security fence is not completed in the Hebron area.

"According to initial reports [the terrorists] came from the southern Hebron hills where Israel has no security fence," said Sharon advisor Prime Dr. Dore Gold.

"It is striking that in the northern West Bank there are no attacks. It is unfortunate that it takes the loss of more innocent Israeli civilians to demonstrate to the world the necessity and justice of Israel's completion of the security barrier," Gold said in a telephone interview.

Following a ruling on the legality of the barrier by the International Court of Justice in the Hague earlier this summer, the United Nations General Assembly demanded that Israel dismantle the portion of the fence that is already complete and pay compensation to Palestinians who have been adversely affected by it.

Palestinians charge that the barrier was a political land grab on Israel's part. Israel argues it is purely a security measure that can be reversed, while the lives of Israelis lost in terror attacks can never be revived.

Although there have not been any suicide bombings recently, it is not because the terrorists have stopped trying.

"The reason why it has been quiet was not because the Palestinian [terrorist groups] stopped attacking," Gold said. "It was only because [Israeli] troops were deployed in a manner [to prevent their success]."

Earlier on Tuesday, the army prevented another suicide bombing at the Erez crossing point in the Gaza Strip. Soldiers became suspicious of a Palestinian worker, who -- as it turned out -- was carrying an explosive device "hidden in his groin area," the army said in a statement.

The army said a "major terror attack" had been prevented. There have been four attacks at the crossing so far this year. The crossing is used by Palestinians for crossing into Israel or the Industrial zone for work.