Israel Brings Home its Dead and Wounded

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Just after midnight Thursday, the last plane from Bulgaria touched down at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, carrying the bodies of five Israeli tourists killed in Wednesday's terror attack.

They had left Wednesday morning with a planeload of Israeli vacationers for a holiday at the Black Sea resort of Burgas. A bomber blew up the bus taking them to their hotel shortly after they arrived. Israel Defense Forces soldiers carried the five flag-draped coffins to the tarmac.

Brig.-Gen. Avi Peretz, the chief military rabbi, joined by Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, led families and friends in a short memorial service, reading from the Book of Psalms.

On behalf of the government, Misezhnikov said what many were thinking: They were "killed for the simple sin of being Israeli and Jewish."

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the same sentiments in Jerusalem, "There is nothing that reveals the true face of our enemies more than despicable terror attacks against us. They attacked and killed innocent civilians -- families, youth, children, people who went for an innocent vacation, and their only crime was being Israeli and Jewish."

Netanyahu said the government has concrete evidence linking the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, to Wednesday's bombing. Since the beginning of the year, 20 similar attempts spanning the globe have been linked to Hezbollah terrorists.

"Iran is the No. 1 exporter of terrorism in the world," Netanyahu said. "It is forbidden for a terrorist state to have nuclear weapons. It is forbidden for the world's most dangerous country to get the world's most dangerous weapons," he said.

The five victims were the last to be returned to Israel. Around 10:30 p.m., the three most seriously injured, who underwent emergency surgery in Bulgaria, were transferred to hospitals immediately upon landing. Thirty-three others, who sustained less life-threatening injuries, arrived mid-afternoon.

By Friday morning, funerals were already underway in the hometowns of the five victims: Itzik Kolengi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, both from Petah Tikvah; Maor Harush, 25, and Elior Price, 26, both from Acco; and Kochava Shriki, 44, from Rishon Lezion.

Shriki and her husband, Yitzhak, were celebrating her pregnancy after years of fertility treatments. Friday he will bury his wife and the baby he'll never see.

Kolengi and his wife, Gilat, welcomed their first daughter four months ago. They were vacationing with their close friends, Natalie and Amir Menashe, parents of a 10-month-old son. Gilat sustained serious injuries, Natalie was lightly injured and Itzak and Amir were both killed while putting their suitcases in the baggage compartment when the killer detonated the bomb in his backpack.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, himself a former IDF chief of staff, echoed Netanyahu's words to Channel 10 Friday morning.

"We have no doubt that Iran and its emissaries are behind this terrorist assault as part of the recent attempts to hurt Israeli targets," Ya'alon said, cautioning "every Israeli who leaves the country…to assume he is a target" and stay alert when out of the country. Israelis have heard similar warnings in the past about potential terror attacks while abroad.

Ya'alon said Israelis traveling outside Israel should be particularly alert and if they're part of an organized tour, make sure there's a security guard assigned to check every passenger getting on the bus.

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Tzippe Barrow

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