IN the Middle East's unending war of strike and counterstrike, some of the crudest blows in recent months have been falling on civilians. Israeli jets accidentally bombed an Egyptian industrial plant at Abu Zabal in February, killing 80 workers. Two months later, 30 Egyptian children died when Israeli planes hit a building at Bahr el Bakr that they believed to be a military installation. On Israel's Lebanese frontier, hit-and-run raids by Arab guerrillas have killed eight Israelis and wounded 30 in recent weeks, most of them civilians. Two weeks ago, in an effort to silence such attacks, Israeli jets and armor swept into Lebanon on a 34-hour punitive raid. The attack was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, 11 to 0, with four abstentions. The Council, heavily weighted with Arab sympathizers, ignored a U.S. argument that attacks from both sides should be noted.
Last week, in what was nothing less than a calculated act of vengeance, Arab guerrillas slipped over the Lebanese border into Israel near a village called Baram. Judging from the tracks they left, there appeared to be eight of them. Hiding in a clump of bushes beside a road 500 yards from the border, the guerrillas allowed a military patrol to pass. Then came a target more to their taste−a bright yellow school bus on its customary morning run, packed with five-to-eight-year-olds from a moshav, or cooperative farm, called Avivim. When the bus slowed for a turn in the road, the Arabs attacked.
At pointblank range, scarcely 20 yards, the guerrillas fired three U.S.-made 82-mm. bazooka shells. They could hardly miss. One shell exploded above the driver's seat; he was killed instantly but clung grotesquely to the wheel as the bus swayed another 60 yards down the road. The other shells hit the body of the vehicle, tearing out the floor and spraying the occupants with shrapnel. Bodies, bookbags and lunch boxes were strewn around the wreckage. Two teachers and seven children died instantly: another student and teacher died later, and the remaining 20 aboard the bus were all wounded. Nor did the toll end there. Shortly afterward, five parents speeding to see their children in the hospital were injured when the truck carrying them overturned. An Israeli army officer scouting for the guerrillas lost a foot when he stumbled into a minefield.
Murder, Not War. The shelling was Israel's worst civilian catastrophe since the Six-Day War, and the nation responded with grief and anger. "This is murder, not war." protested an army doctor working on the victims. A group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmed Jebreel, a 35-year-old former army officer, quickly claimed credit for the attack. The same group also boasted three months ago of engineering the mid-air explosion of an Israel-bound Swissair jet in which 47 died. Jebreel wired Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser last week that the bus attack was revenge for the Israeli air raid at Bahr el Bakr. But Al-Fatah, largest of the Arab commando organizations, criticized the guerrilla group, and declared that its own policy prohibited deliberate attacks on civilians.