Terrorist's bomb kills only him in Tel Aviv

Dozens of Israelis wounded on street

January 26, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian suicide bomber strolled into a crowded pedestrian mall yesterday in Tel Aviv and detonated a nail-studded package near a cafe, injuring two dozen people.

No one other than the bomber died in the attack, but his actions underscored the unpredictability of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There are warnings about the center; there are warnings for Jerusalem," Israeli Police Supt. Shlomo Aharonishki said as medics filled emergency rooms with injured civilians. "In fact, there are warnings essentially throughout the country."

Eight Israelis have been killed in the past 10 days by Palestinian gunmen. Attackers had opened fire at a banquet hall in the northern city of Hadera and at a bus stop in downtown Jerusalem.

Yesterday's bombing occurred about 11 a.m. on Neve Sheanan Street, on a walkway near Tel Aviv's old bus station lined with shops and ethnic eateries catering to foreign workers. Among the injured were a 4-year-old boy and his pregnant mother.

The blast shattered windows and overturned benches and chairs, sparking chaos on a relatively run-down, but usually crowded section of Israel's most modern city. One man survived despite falling on top of the bomber immediately after the explosion.

Police recovered a Kalishnakov rifle nearby and said a gunman might have planned to open fire on people fleeing the blast. Two Palestinian youths, one from the West Bank city of Hebron, were arrested and detained for questioning.

No group claimed responsibility, but police said the bomb was crude, indicating the work of the Islamic Jihad, and not the militant group Hamas.

Authorities first said the bomber had arrived on a scooter that was damaged in the blast, but later said he had walked.

Several militant groups vowed to launch attacks against Israel after Israeli soldiers killed four senior Hamas members during a raid on a suspected bomb factory in Nablus and assassinated another leader Thursday in the Gaza Strip.

About 2,000 Palestinians marched yesterday in the funeral for Bakr Harndan, 28, who was killed in a missile strike on his car.

Later, the Israeli army said three rockets were fired at the border post that separates the northern edge of the Gaza Strip from Israel, causing little damage and no injuries. Officials expressed concern that Hamas might have developed a more sophisticated rocket that could reach Israeli cities.

Elsewhere, about 4,000 Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been confined by Israeli tanks to his compound on the western edge of the city.

Protesters threw rocks at the tanks, and soldiers responded by firing rubber-coated bullets and tear gas. Palestinian officials said 10 people were slightly injured in what has become a daily ritual outside Arafat's walled compound.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed not to let Arafat leave the compound until Palestinian authorities arrest the assassins of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was gunned down in his Jerusalem hotel room in October. Arafat has been confined for almost seven weeks.

Palestinian officials condemned yesterday's terror attack in Tel Aviv but blamed Israel's continued assassinations of Palestinian militants for inflaming the situation. They again appealed for international help.

Last night, Israeli tanks and ground forces blockaded roads linking the northern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip, essentially cutting it in half and preventing travel. The army said the blockade was set up because of a high number of bomb threats.

Later, Israeli aircraft attacked Palestinian security installations in Gaza City. There was no immediate comment from the army or word on damages or casualties.

Israeli officials said yesterday they would review a list of potential targets when considering retaliation for the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The army has not yet responded to Tuesday's shooting spree in downtown Jerusalem, in which two women were killed and 14 other people were wounded. And Israelis are bracing for an attack by Hamas.

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