Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Two people were killed and nine others wounded when a car bomb exploded near an open-air market in downtown Jerusalem during the busiest time of the week, Thursday afternoon, when shoppers are preparing for the Sabbath.
The blast occurred an hour after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were scheduled to declare a cessation of violence between their peoples, as agreed upon in an understanding between Arafat and former prime minister Shimon Peres late Wednesday night.
Initially it was reported that the dead were two terrorists, but as details emerged, it became clear that the two were innocent passers-by when the explosion occurred.
One of those killed, Ayelet Shahar Levy, was the 28-year-old daughter of former cabinet minister and head of the National Religious Party, Yitzhak Levy. The second fatality, Hanan Levy (no relation to Ayelet), was a 34-year-old lawyer who worked in the area.
Three of those lightly wounded were children who had come to stay in downtown Jerusalem with their grandmother to get away from the nightly shooting attacks by Palestinian gunmen on their Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. Fierce gunfire on Gilo erupted again Thursday evening after the bomb attack.
According to reports, the driver of the car, packed with explosives, apparently tried to turn the wrong way down a one-way street toward the busiest part of the market but was stopped by police. When he turned to go toward the center of the city, a truck was blocking the road, so he turned up a small alley, left the car and detonated the explosives by remote control.
Security officials were quick to point out that the attack could have killed and wounded dozens more had the vehicle, packed with explosives and nails, exploded on a main road instead of a side alleyway.
Barak called the attack "yet another serious, violent event that was forced on [Israel]." Barak said that it stemmed from the "loosening of the reins by the Palestinian Authority and the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners."
Arafat released dozens of prisoners from Palestinian jails at the start of the current unrest. Included among them were top planners of terror attacks, leaders of terror cells, bomb makers and would-be suicide bombers.
Barak demanded that the PA re-arrest those freed and return to fighting terrorism. He also warned that Israel would fight terrorism with "full force" and said that Israel's "spirit, stamina and determination to live in security and peace" would not be broken by "abhorrent attacks."
Jerusalem's Mayor, Ehud Olmert, who arrived on the scene after the bombing incident occurred, told reporters that he was "outraged" and "frustrated" but not surprised by the attack after Arafat freed so many terrorists.
"The dramatic news of ceasefires didn't yet reach Jerusalem," Olmert said, referring to the reported ceasefire understanding between Arafat and Peres.
However, Meir Indor, Chairman of the Terror Victims Association, blamed Barak and not Arafat for the explosion.
Indor was in his office across from the alley when the bomb went off. He was studying a file of photos of 40 victims who lost their lives in previous terror attacks at the Mahane Yehuda market, to be used in an exhibition in the US. Mahane Yehuda, Hebrew for Jewish Camp, is a "favorite" terrorist target because it is usually crowded.
"They chose Thursday afternoon (in particular) to kill the maximum civilians who come to buy food [for the Sabbath]," Indor said.
However, he laid the blame on Barak for depending on Arafat for Israel's security. Arafat is "committed to a life of terror," he said, so how can Israel expect him to provide for Israel's security by fighting terrorism.
"Arafat is not only a terrorist, but he's not a partner for peace," said Eliahu Zoharit, a worker for the Red Star of David (Israel's Red Cross).
"The [Israelis] want peace. They are fed up with war," said Zoharit. However, he doesn't believe that the Palestinians will ever accept the Jews.
Sixteen-year-old Danny Moshe passed through the alley where the car was parked on his way home from school just 10 minutes before the blast. His friends, who were on their way to his house, were just 30 feet from the car when it exploded.
Moshe ran outside his home, which backs up to the alley, he said, and helped the wounded who were strewn on the street until the police arrived. He said that he's been around for many bomb attacks in the market, and he's "scared."
Geula is the manager of a small lingerie store at the corner of the alley where the bomb exploded. She didn't see what happened, but when she heard the blast and felt the building shake, she knew there had been a terrorist attack.
Geula, a young mother with one child, said that she had been nearby when several previous bombings took place in the market. But she said that she will not be scared away. "It's forbidden for them to see us as weak," she said.