Bomb on a lunchtime bus was 'like a punch in the stomach'
Noémie Douek was on her break, sitting on a step outside the cafe where she works on Sha’ul HaMelech Boulevard, when she heard the explosion. What she saw, about 20m away, was black smoke billowing from a stationary bus and the cars all around coming to a sudden stop.
“We knew very quickly it was a bomb. With a rocket there’s always a siren before the bang,” the 22-year-old said. “I wanted to go and help them but there was a chance that there would be another explosion, so we felt it was too dangerous to get close.”
Within minutes there was pandemonium. Ambulances and police cars zoomed in and out. A helicopter circled overhead. Armed detectives fanned out into surrounding streets. From the nearby military complex that houses Israel’s defence ministry, loudspeakers ordered soldiers on to high alert.
Word of the first major bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006 spread quickly around the city, and at first the police struggled to hold back the crowds that descended on the scene.
The bomb exploded on the 142 bus just after midday as it approached the vast military headquarters – what one onlooker described as “Israel’s Pentagon”.
Police said it was not a suicide attack and suggested that someone might have left the device on the bus.
The explosion left 15 people injured, three of them seriously, and reduced the bus to a shell of twisted metal and shattered windows.
The last time a bomb blast hit Israel’s commercial capital was in April 2006, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people at a sandwich stand near the old central bus station.
Hamas militants have fired at least four rockets at the city over the past week, the first such attacks since Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at the city in 1991, but they caused no casualties.
“It’s like a punch in the stomach,” said Odeya Koren, a middle-aged woman who stopped at the scene.
“What should I do as a mother? Should I tell my kids not to take a bus? What if they walk and the bus blows up beside them? Should we stay at home? How can you live?”
‘They are trying hard to kill us’
Although the rocket attacks of the past week had broken Tel Aviv’s sense of isolation from the Gaza crisis, ordinary life had largely continued unaffected. Yesterday, a question politicians, analysts and citizens were grappling with was whether the bombing could – or should – scupper attempts to agree a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
For Ms Douek, the answer was straightforward. “It frightens me, and that’s why we have to respond. There comes a point when you have to defend yourself.”
Others hoped the talks would remain on track and that the bombing would not embolden cheerleaders for a ground invasion.
Nathan Datner, a Tel Aviv-based actor, said he was furious that Palestinian militants were targeting civilians with bombs and rockets – that “they are trying hard to kill us” – but he hoped, nonetheless, that hostilities would soon end.
“There has got to be a ceasefire,” he said. “People have got to sit down and talk.”