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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Taba attacks shatter Sinai tourism
By Penny Spiller
BBC News Online, Taba

View of the Ras al-Shitan beach
The hopes for Sinai tourism have gone even though some remain philosophical
Row upon row of bamboo beach huts that line the north-eastern Sinai coast stand empty. Four days ago they were full.

Thousands of people, mainly Israelis, were enjoying the peace and quiet of these isolated retreats when three bomb attacks shattered the night sky.

They targeted two of the most popular destinations for Israelis in Sinai - the Hilton Hotel in Taba and two beach camps 60km south in an area called Ras al-Shitan near Nuweiba.

It came on one of the last nights of an annual holiday.

Within hours the Israeli holidaymakers - some 12,000 - had left, and with it Sinai's hopes that better days were on the way.

Said Hasunah, who runs a camp in Ras al-Shitan, said this was the first year since the Intifada started four years ago that so many Israelis had returned to Sinai.

All the camps in Ras al-Shitan - meaning Satan's Head - had prepared for weeks for the arrival of more than 1,000 people.

In the space of a night Said's small camp went from full to empty.

Up till now some Israelis had felt more safe here than in Israel
Camp owner
Said is philosophical though. "I have been in this area for 16 years and people know me and like to stay here.

"I have had more than 150 phone calls in the last few days from people around the world asking if everything is okay.

"They say to me they will return. I am sure that people will come back soon."

Another camp manager, a German man who asked to be referred to simply as Michael, is less certain.

No more tourists

He moved from Germany a year ago to run a camp a short way down the coast from Ras al-Shitan.

Yaron Amir
It was like Hiroshima - there was a bright light and then a huge mushroom cloud of smoke
Yaron Amir
Israeli holidaymaker

"Up till now some Israelis had felt more safe here than in Israel because there had been no attacks here. Obviously that has changed, and there is also the added problem that the hospitals here are not as well-equipped as in Israel," he said. His neighbour, an Egyptian man, closed his camp on Friday, saying there would be no more tourists now for a few years.

"We are just going to see how it goes," said Michael. "We are having to put our plans for investment in the camp on hold and take each day as it comes."

Michael's camp had been full on Thursday night with 25 people. Three days later there is one.

Israeli Yaron Amir, 30, had been staying at a neighbouring camp - partying with friends on the beach - when he saw the two blasts.

'Like Hiroshima'

"It was like Hiroshima - there was a bright light and then a huge mushroom cloud of smoke. We immediately knew it was a bomb," he said.

"We had known that something might happen. The government always warns against travelling to Sinai during holidays, but the threat had seemed more serious this time - but we still ignored it."

Yaron comes to Sinai every couple of months. "There is nowhere like this in Israel. It is less touristy, less expensive - and the only place to come and dive."

People were running and crying
Although the rest of his camp deserted on Friday, Yaron chose to remain and see out the end of his holiday. He wants to keep coming to Sinai in future, but is aware his family may encourage him not to.

A Moroccan-Israeli woman, Nelsie, is another who intends to keep coming. "I spend half my life here," she said.

Nelsie was in Ras Al-Shitan on the night of the blasts. Still too traumatized to go into detail about the attack, she said there had been a happy atmosphere in the camp earlier on in the evening.

"I hadn't seen so many people since before the Intifada. Many of them hadn't been back for years," she said.

"I was sitting talking with someone when we heard a sound, which I thought at first was a gas explosion. I saw agitation and soon everyone knew it was a bomb.

"People were running and crying. I went to the place where it happened and tried to comfort those who had helped out in the immediate aftermath of the attack."

The first car bomb struck in a Ras Al-Shitan camp called Moon Island. The car had driven in and stopped right outside the restaurant area before detonating.

Damage after the blasts
Israelis felt more secure here than inside Israel
It brought down the bamboo covered restaurant and several nearby huts.

Michael, who was one of the first on the scene, said he helped pull one of two dead Israelis - a woman - from under the collapsed restaurant roofing. The blast also killed a Bedouin.

Moments later a second blast was heard nearby. Local people believe the driver of the car had planned to drive over a hilltop straight into some camp huts below but was startled by a guard carrying a lantern and reversed back before the bomb exploded.

"We were very lucky," said one man, who asked not to be identified, who lives in the camp.

"The explosion at Moon Island happened very close to a generator and, but for the wind blowing in the right direction, could easily have set it alight. The second blast thankfully happened away from the camp."

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