Then the car exploded with a shattering bang, sending plumes of black smoke billowing over the 19th-century neighborhood's red rooftops--killing two passers-by and wounding at least 10.
Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's bustling open market, was targeted for terror again on Thursday. As the biggest draw in this city for shoppers stocking up for the weekend, it has been the most frequently bombed site in the city since the 1960s.
There was no immediately claim of responsibility, though Israeli officials said they believed Palestinian militants, either from the Hamas or Islamic Jihad groups, were responsible.
Shop owner Yaakov Hassoun--an experienced medic--rushed to the alley where the explosion had taken place at about 3 p.m. He tried to pull a woman out of the flames.
"I saw her on the ground and her legs had been blown off," he said, still wearing the surgical gloves another medic had handed him. "I hoped she was alive, but she was dead."
The bomber never made it to Etz Haim Street, a jumble of fruit, vegetable, and spice vendors that is the market's most crowded area--and where the bomb would have caused much greater casualties.
Locals said they believed the bomber was headed for the market but was stalled--a television report said a van was unloading furniture on Shomron Street, a narrow crescent that leads away from the market, and then back into its heart.
The bomber--perhaps also scared away from the hundreds of police patrolling the area since the latest outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities began a month ago--apparently left the car instead on this street of squat stone houses.
Lavana Hason was cooking up a snack for a gaggle of her grandchildren.
"I didn't hear it, the kids were shouting `an explosion, an explosion!"' she told Israel television, speaking from the hospital emergency room where she was treated for shock. "My whole house was burned."
Agrippas Street, a Jerusalem west-east artery running by the market, was clogged with ambulances, bomb-sniffing dogs, and police on horseback pushing back onlookers.
"Move back, there are concerns that there could be more explosives," they said.
Soon, another familiar denizen of these scenes arrived--the ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteers who scrape flesh off the pavement for proper Jewish burial.
Police said the two dead were Israeli Jews.
Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzhaki called on the people of Jerusalem to assist the police. Helicopters hovered low overhead, on the lookout for the perpetrator or perpetrators.
"We call on everyone to keep their eyes open. We need the help of the public to report anything suspicious," Yitzhaki said.
Gabi Balulu, 37, a barber who lives on Shomron Street, said the possibility of such attacks was part of the grind.
"Here people are always under stress, always wondering what will happen next."