Explosion kills 3 in West Bank

Suicide bombing injures dozens

Israel later fires on Palestinian offices

February 17, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian suicide bomber detonated an explosive outside a crowded pizza restaurant in a Jewish settlement on the northern West Bank last night, killing himself and two Israelis on a day marred by a string of lethal attacks.

Israeli helicopters fired missiles at Palestinian buildings in the West Bank city of Nablus early today after the bombing, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it attacked one of Yasser Arafat's offices, Palestinian Authority headquarters and the police command post, the news service added. No casualties were reported.

The bombing destroyed the eatery in the heart of Karnei Shomron, a large settlement of about 8,000 people between two Palestinian-controlled cities and home to many American and other Western immigrants.

At least two dozen people were injured, one critically, most of them young patrons marking the end of the Jewish Sabbath. The bomber, possibly a Palestinian worker at the shop, blew himself up in an outside eating area.

The two dead Israelis were reported to be a boy and a woman. Police said several children were among the injured.

The nail-studded explosive left the pizza parlor in ruins and shattered windows throughout the strip mall. "I heard a huge bang, and everything fell apart," a pizza employee identified only as Amnon told Israeli Radio.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has vowed to launch military strikes to answer each Palestinian attack and has come under intense pressure from settlers, who feel unsafe, talked by telephone with his security Cabinet last night to decide how to respond.

His spokesman, Raanan Gissin, accused Arafat of "escalating the situation deliberately to provoke Israel into a harsher response in order to trigger the intervention of international forces. He is playing with matches right now."

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Syrian-based militant group that rejects all negotiations with Israel, claimed responsibility for the attack. Sharon blames Arafat for every terror strike, saying he has failed to dismantle extremist groups.

Palestinian officials counter that they cannot arrest militants as long as Israel's army bombs its jails and police stations and its leaders refuse to go back to the negotiating table and offer an alternative to violence.

Last night's suicide bombing was one of a number of attacks since Friday that spanned the gamut - from a purported assassination by Israel to the firing of rockets by a Palestinian militant group. Five Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since Friday night.

Each side continues to warn the other of devastating consequences for escalating the conflict by, for example, the Palestinians' launching more powerful rockets at Israel or by Israel's sending tanks into Palestinian cities.

But instead of deterring attacks, both sides take up the challenge, and each new tactic becomes the norm. For the Palestinians, rocks became bullets, then mortars and eventually rockets. For the Israelis, bullets led to tanks, then to helicopter gunships and F-16 warplanes.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who met with Arafat yesterday in Ramallah, told reporters afterward that the situation has deteriorated from "bad to worse."

Last night, about 10,000 Israeli demonstrators took to the streets of Tel Aviv to send a message that violence must end and that the only way to restore order is for Israel to evacuate the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements and immediately recognize a Palestinian state.

Calling the settlements "one of Israel's greatest disasters," Israeli parliament member and opposition leader Yossi Sarid told a cheering crowd that "a year with Sharon in power is enough to show that the Palestinians won't go away with force, and more force won't help."

Supporters carried flags and banners saying, "The occupation is killing us," and "Get out of the territories, get out of the cycle of blood."

But in what has become a refrain from Sharon's office, his spokespeople were again talking tough last night. Gissin said Sharon's telephone discussions with his security Cabinet were only to formulate "an immediate response" to the day's violence.

"There will be further action to stop this trend," Gissin said. "This will not go without a response, and a proper one. We will exact a price from the Palestinian Authority. It is necessary to take such action to restore Israel's ability to deter."

Last week was marked by a spate of violence that included a roadside bomb that destroyed one of Israel's most advanced and heavily armored tanks, killing three soldiers, and several airstrikes and military incursions by Israel that left at least eight Palestinians dead through Thursday.

In more violence Friday night, an Israeli soldier was shot and killed in an ambush at a checkpoint north of the West Bank city of Ramallah, and yesterday morning the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a Kassam-2 rocket from the central Gaza Strip into a kibbutz in Israel.

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