Wednesday, 24 July 2002

Israelis fear retaliation for strike

July 24, 2002

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

JERUSALEM — People bustled down the streets of Jerusalem in the summer sunshine Wednesday. But those familiar with the city at this time of year said that compared with a few years ago, the place looked like a ghost town.

"Everyone is scared, just waiting for the next attack," jeweler Moshe Beigel said. "After the attack in Gaza, I might as well lock up and go home. No one will be coming into town."

Israelis prepared for the worst on Wednesday as Palestinian militants vowed no Israeli was safe after an attack in Gaza City early Tuesday that killed 13 civilians, a top militant and his bodyguard. Nine of the dead were children.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv told Americans in Israel that it is taking seriously threats from the radical Hamas group to avenge the Israeli airstrike. A missile killed Salah Shehadeh, commander of the military wing of Hamas. Israeli officials said that Shehadeh was responsible for terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of people.

Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said Wednesday that there would be "100 new Salah Shehadehs" and "new operations which will bring about the death of hundreds" of Israelis. Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, the terrorist cell founded by Shehadeh, called its followers to turn Israel into a "sea of blood."

Even before Palestinian militants threatened to avenge those killed in the airstrike, 22 months of Israeli-Palestinian conflict had destroyed Jerusalem's restaurant and tourist industry. Half the city's hotels have closed their doors. Most of those that are still open are operating half-empty.

The Jerusalem municipality is running television and radio advertisements urging Israelis to visit Jerusalem and its famous holy shrines. Though people are steering clear of public places, it's still nearly impossible to find a parking space here; many locals use cars instead of buses for fear they will be targeted in a bomb attack.

Beneath Beigel's shop on Hillel Street, seats at the usually packed Aroma Cafe tables were empty. "We still come, but we don't sit around like we used to," said Yehudit Wilson, a bank clerk. "They have a security guard here now, but he won't be able to stop a suicide bomber. Most of the time, we just stay home." Her friend Sara Ben-David said Hamas' new threats are "very scary. They sound as though they mean it, and with all those dead children being shown again and again on TV, I think most Palestinians also want revenge."

Even away from the center of town, people in Jerusalem are jumpy. The northern neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol is near the French Hill junction where a suicide attack on June 19 — the last in the city — claimed the lives of six Israelis. "We are very afraid," said Sami Azulay, a cafe waitress. "We heard that the terrorists want to take revenge. We are keeping our eyes open."

Shoshi Hatouka, who sells jeans and other clothes at a nearby boutique, said things were going from bad to worse. "In a month, I'll have to close down," she said. "Every time we think there's going to be peace, the situation only gets worse. It's hopeless. We are afraid to walk in the street. We are afraid to go shopping. We have become prisoners."

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