Hamas role in Jerusalem bus bomb remains unclear

Israeli authorities search the remains of a burnt-out bus after an explosion in Jerusalem in which the alleged bomber, a 19-year-old from a Bethlehem-area refugee camp, incurred fatal wounds and 20 Israelis were injured on 18 April.

Atef Safadi EPA

Israel has reportedly rounded up Palestinians in the occupied West Bank affiliated with Hamas after one of the group’s adherents was said to have set off a bomb on a Jerusalem bus earlier this week.

The alleged bomber, Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, a 19-year-old from Aida refugee camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, died in an Israeli hospital on Wednesday from wounds sustained during the explosion two days prior.

At least 20 persons were wounded in the blast, and four of those injured were still in hospital, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported on Thursday.

The paper added that Monday’s incident “is the first suicide attack in Israel in five years.”

Use of the tactic dropped sharply and eventually fell out of use after Hamas declared a unilateral ceasefire in the West Bank in late 2004.

Other Palestinian factions that used the tactic, including groups affiliated with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, also abandoned the practice.

Hamas role unclear

It has been reported by both Israeli and Palestinian media that Hamas’ wing in the occupied West Bank claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bombing.

A poster circulated online showing Abu Srour and bearing Hamas’ logo salutes the operation in the name of the resistance group’s Bethlehem, West Bank, branch.

But a brief statement published on Hamas’ website praises the bombing and offers condolences for Abu Srour, whom it identifies as one of its “sons,” yet does not explicitly claim responsibility.

According to local analysts cited by the Palestinian Quds news site, resistance groups have in recent years avoided claiming armed operations in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, to maintain the secrecy of their cells and avoid a crackdown by Palestinian Authority security forces.

Majid Faraj, the head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, boasted to Defense News at the beginning of this year that since October, the PA had “prevented 200 attacks against Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested about 100 Palestinians.”

The Israeli government confirmed this claim to Haaretz.

Israeli media reported on Thursday that the country’s domestic intelligence apparatus, the Shin Bet, had stated that it had arrested an unspecified number of Palestinians in Bethlehem affiliated with Hamas suspected of planning and carrying out the attack.

In the summer of 2014, Israel used the kidnapping and slaying of three Jewish teens by a rogue Hamas cell in the West Bank as a pretext to carry out massive arrest sweeps in the West Bank and then launch a devastating war on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

In the wake of the Jerusalem bombing, Israeli officials announced that Israel would continue to carry out incursions into Area A, the roughly 18 percent of the occupied West Bank ostensibly under full Palestinian Authority security control under the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords.

Abbas had been trying to persuade Israel to let PA forces take the lead in going after Palestinians in those areas based on tips that would be provided by Israeli intelligence.

“Improvised device”

On Tuesday an Israeli court imposed a gag order on the investigation of the Jerusalem bombing but the Shin Bet released the name of Abu Srour on Thursday.

An Israeli analyst observed in Haaretz, before the identity of the alleged attacker was known, the lack of fatalities resulting from the explosion “seems to show that this was apparently an improvised device.”

In the hours after the incident, it was unclear whether the explosion was caused by a small bomb or mechanical failure.

The device caused a fire that destroyed the bus on which it was detonated, and spread to an empty bus parked next to it and a nearby car.

“Until now in the current intifada no explosive devices have been found resembling the quality or weight of those that killed hundreds of Israelis a decade ago,” the analyst added, referring to recent months of increased deadly confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Approximately 30 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians since the beginning of October last year, and more than 130 Palestinians have been shot dead in the course of what Israel claims were attacks or attempted attacks.

Human rights groups have condemned the use of lethal violence as a matter of first resort, saying it amounts to an unofficial shoot-to-kill policy encouraged by Israel’s top leadership.

Most attacks have been waged by individuals or small groups of Palestinians acting independently of any command from armed groups, targeting Israeli occupation forces at checkpoints and settlements.

Temple Mount threats

In recent weeks that violence has been on the wane, but Israel’s military establishment anticipates a possible spike in confrontations during the upcoming Passover holiday.

The surge in deadly violence last October followed protests over Israel’s assaults and incursions in occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound ahead of the Rosh Hashana holiday in September.

Haaretz noted this week that “At the precise time that the bus was bombed in southern Jerusalem on Monday, Temple Mount activists were holding their annual Passover sacrifice ceremony across town on Mount Scopus.”

The Temple Mount movement seeks the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the erection of a Jewish temple in its place.

The annual Passover ceremony involves the slaughter of a lamb, “a practice for the possibility of actually bringing the paschal sacrifice” to the site of the al-Aqsa mosque and the gilded Dome of the Rock.

The event was attended by a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, from the ruling Likud party, as well as Jerusalem councilman Aryeh King, who stated that “In our days we will no longer see that abomination [the Dome of the Rock] on the Temple Mount.”

Haaretz noted: “One cannot deny the link between the increasingly messianic discourse regarding the Temple Mount, including the growing call to change the status quo that forbids Jewish prayer there, and the increasing violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.