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Thursday, January 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Palestinian mother is suicide bomber in attack at border
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
The suicide bombing marked two firsts: the first time the Islamic militant group Hamas sent a female bomber, and the first time a mother was a suicide bomber. Reem Raiyshi, 22, left behind two children, ages 1 and 3.
At a vigil for her in Gaza City, militant men defended sending a mother for the job. Palestinian women abhorred the idea that a woman would abandon two young children.
The attack occurred at 9:30 a.m. at this hub for thousands of Palestinian laborers, who pass through a network of barbed-wire fences, concrete barricades and security checks every day to go to highly coveted jobs in Israel. Most earn less than $25 a day, but that's far more than they can make at home, said tailor Ashur Solha, 40, a father of eight.
There were few laborers yesterday in the vicinity of the one-story structure Raiyshi demolished with her TNT and nail-laden bomb belt, as most of them already had crossed.
Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni, who heads the Israeli military division in Gaza, said Raiyshi entered the checkpoint at the Erez industrial compound with about 20 Palestinians. She said she'd come to seek a permit to enter Israel, and lied to soldiers that she had a titanium implant in her leg that would set off the metal detector.
After the detector sounded, she was ushered to a room for a more thorough security search. That was a humanitarian gesture to assure her privacy, he added.
The military wing of Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian militant group affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement, claimed joint responsibility for the bombing which they said was to avenge Palestinians killed by the Israeli military and vowed to escalate their attacks.
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade had claimed responsibility less than 24 hours earlier for the shooting of a group of Jewish settlers on a stretch of West Bank highway that left one Israeli man dead and three wounded.
This was the first suicide attack in January. The previous one was a Dec. 25 bombing in a suburb of Tel Aviv that left four Israelis dead.
Four of those hurt yesterday were Palestinian workers, according to Israeli and Palestinian medical officials. The dead Israelis included three soldiers and a civilian security inspector, according to military sources.
"Jihad is the obligation of all Muslims, both men and women," Yassin said. "Resistance will escalate against the Zionist enemy until they leave our land."
Al Aqsa's female fighters spent 60 days training Raiyshi because Hamas was uncomfortable having men train a woman, said Abu Jandal, a spokesman for the group.
A videotape Raiyshi left behind showed her smiling as she held the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. Raiyshi, who came from a middle-class Palestinian merchant family, spoke of her devotion to her two children a boy aged 18 months and a 3-year-old daughter.
"Only God knows how much I loved them," she said unwaveringly before an attack that she said was meant to turn her body into "deadly shrapnel."
"I always hoped to be the first female suicide bomber with the knowledge that my body will go to heaven. That is my wish to Allah, blessed be he."
In Gaza City, men and women milling near the mourning tent Hamas erected in Raiyshi's neighborhood reflected on her actions. Men praised her.
"I would have no problem if my wife did this, especially because it's prescribed by God," said Abu Marwan, 39.
Women expressed outrage.
"It's very wrong, wrong, wrong," said Reem al Dahdou, 30, who cradled a 2-month-old daughter as she, a friend and their dozen children headed home. "As a woman, I can do what she does, I can help my people, but in a different way, by raising my children and teaching them to love their land. What do her children have now? Nothing."
Three miles away, under the watchful eyes of armed Israeli soldiers, three Palestinian ambulance workers in reflective vests each carried a bag of Raiyshi's remains through a metal detector and into the Gazan night.
Israeli military authorities swiftly sealed off the crossing, and the army said it was expected to remain closed for some time. Israeli and U.S. officials expressed dismay that militant groups would select a target that put livelihoods as well as lives at risk.
"This is a terminal that we opened up to allow ordinary Palestinians to bring bread to their tables, and what do the militant groups do? They bring in a suicide bomber," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "This is a strategy to bring chaos, to make normal life for the Palestinians impossible."
The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, called for a mutual cease-fire but did not immediately condemn the bombing. As a rule, senior Palestinian officials are reluctant to characterize attacks aimed mainly at Israeli military personnel as terrorism, because many Palestinians consider them legitimate acts of war against enemy combatants.
Qureia told reporters in the West Bank that ongoing Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories had inflamed the situation.
A 22-year-old British activist died overnight in a London hospital after spending nearly nine months in a coma. Tom Hurndall, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, was shot in the head in April while trying to help children out of the path of Israeli fire in the southern Gaza Strip, fellow activists said. On Monday, an Israeli military prosecutor filed a six-count indictment against the unidentified soldier who shot him. After Hurndall's death, Israeli officials said the charges could be upgraded to manslaughter.
American-born rabbi Arik Ascherman yesterday went on trial along with two Israeli activists for blocking Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes built without permits. Ascherman, a Reform rabbi originally from Erie, Pa., says he has been arrested at least 10 times in his battle against what he says are injustices against Palestinians.
He didn't deny blocking the bulldozers, instead arguing he had a moral responsibility to stop them. Ascherman, head of the local group Rabbis for Human Rights, claims that Israel has tried to prevent Palestinian growth in Jerusalem by demolishing Palestinian homes for not having proper paperwork.
Background from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
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