Bloomberg News

Israelis Killed in Blast; Netanyahu Blames Iran

July 18, 2012

Six people were killed and more than 30 injured in an blast on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for the attack.

Five people were killed in the explosion at the airport in Burgas, on the Black Sea coast, and one person died in hospital, the Foreign Ministry in Sofia said on its website today. Bulgarian authorities are working on the assumption that the attack was an act of terrorism, the ministry said.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Netanyahu said Israel would “respond forcefully to Iranian terror” and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel will use “all means” to find those behind the attack.

“Hezbollah, which often acts as Iran’s proxy abroad, is likely to have been involved in the Bulgaria attack,” Yoram Schweitzer, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said by phone.

Israel will file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council over the attack, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Israel Army Radio today, adding that the country will seek to boost sanctions to include a ban on travel for all holders of Iranian passports and a ban on Iranian airlines from landing abroad.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attack, saying it was “completely outrageous,” according to a statement from the White House. The U.S. is ready to provide “whatever assistance is necessary,” to identify the perpetrators, according to the statement.

Israeli Warning

Israeli secret services warned their Bulgarian counterparts of a possible terrorist attack on Israeli tourists several weeks ago, Bulgaria on Air television reported today, citing unidentified intelligence officials. Netanyahu said Iran had planned similar attacks earlier this year in India, Thailand, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and elsewhere.

Israeli analysts have said that such a campaign may be a response to the killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years that Iran’s leaders have blamed on Israel. Netanyahu noted that today is the 18th anniversary of an attack on a Jewish community center in Argentina that Hezbollah has been accused of helping to carry out.

Cypriot officials this month arrested a Lebanese national allegedly planning to carry out attacks on Israeli targets there. Israel blamed Lebanon’s Hezbollah organization, which receives political and military support from Iran, as being behind the plan.

‘Fierce Response’

“There are reports that the aim in Cyprus was to bring down an Israeli airliner, which would represent a serious escalation on Hezbollah’s part, and will eventually bring about a fierce Israeli response.” Schweitzer said.

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev, Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Shaul Camisa Raz, Israel’s ambassador to the Balkan country, headed to the scene of the explosion.

The bus, on which the explosion happened, was carrying 40 tourists, Bulgarian state radio reported. The blast, which also damaged nearby vehicles, occurred as it was preparing to leave the terminal building about half an hour after Air Via Flight 392 arrived from Tel Aviv, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said.

An Israeli woman who was on the bus told Israel’s Channel 2 television by phone that the blast took place immediately after a man who wasn’t part of the tourist group entered the bus.

‘Terrorist Act’

“This is a typical terrorist act, judging from how it was done in a crowded place, aiming to injure as many people as possible,” Ivan Boyadzhiev, a former anti-terrorism officer, said on Bulgarian National Television.

Israeli medical professionals are traveling to Bulgaria to assist the wounded, said Eli Bin, director-general of the Magen David Adom emergency medical services agency, in an interview with Army Radio.

Bulgaria stepped up security at all airports and train stations, according to the Interior Ministry in Sofia. Burgas airport was closed as authorities are investigating the causes of the blast and worked to establish the identity of the victims, the ministry said. Two transport airplanes carrying police equipment and medical devices and supplies have been dispatched to Burgas, the government said.

“Bulgaria will do everything in its power to uncover the reasons for this horrible incident,” Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elizabeth Konstantinova in Sofia at ekonstantino@bloomberg.net; Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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