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November 23, 2002

As Israeli elections approach, terrorists say ‘elect’ the winner

Politics and the Arab input.
NEW YORK, Nov. 21 (JTA) — It is barely a week into Israel’s election campaign season and Palestinian terrorists want their voices to be heard.
A suicide bombing aboard a crowded Jerusalem bus Thursday sent the apparent message that there will be no halt to terror as Israelis spend the next two months deciding who their next leader will be.

Eleven people were killed and about 50 wounded in Thursday’s bus attack. Many of the passengers were schoolchildren.

Ten of the victims were from Jerusalem: Hodaya Asaraf, 13; Marina Bazarski, 46; Yelena-Hadassah Ben-David, 32: Kira Perlman, 67, and her grandson Ilan Perlman, 8; Sima Novak, 56; Yafit Ravivo, 13; Ella Sharshevsky, 44, and her son Michael Sharshevsky, 16; and Dikla Zino, 20.

The 11th victim, Varga Mirsa, 25, was a tourist from Romania.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, but Palestinian sources reportedly said the bomber belonged to Islamic Jihad. Last week, after Palestinian snipers killed 11 Israelis in Hebron, the two groups also competed for “bragging rights.”

In the wake of the attack, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, apparently decided to rub salt in Israel’s wounds, stating that Palestinian suicide bombings are an effective weapon, despite Israeli claims that the Jewish state will never bow to terror.

Rantissi said such attacks are what prompted the newly elected leader of Israel’s Labor Party, Amram Mitzna, to declare this week that he would uproot Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip immediately upon taking office.

Mitzna, in an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz before he won the Labor Party’s leadership primary Tuesday, also said he would resume talks with the Palestinians without condition and would withdraw from most of the West Bank within a year of taking office.

Given Mitzna’s dovish stance, one might wonder why Rantissi said what he did, particularly since it was highly likely to make at least some Israeli voters question whether they would really want to support Mitzna.

Then there is another consideration: Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is squaring off against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon next week in a Likud leadership primary.

Rantissi’s comments — to say nothing of Thursday’s brutal bus bombing — could prompt Likud voters to back the more hawkish Netanyahu over Sharon.