Powell cancels Arafat meeting

Denunciation of terror, especially suicide blast, expected of Palestinian

6 killed, 80 injured in Jerusalem

Sharon discussions fail to settle timetable for Israel to quit West Bank

April 13, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A female suicide bomber triggered a blast outside a crowded market here yesterday, killing six people, wounding at least 80 and raising the stakes in U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's peace mission.

Hours earlier, Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met but failed to reach an agreement on a timetable for Israeli troop withdrawal from the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. After the bombing, Powell canceled a meeting scheduled for today with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his besieged headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The meeting could be rescheduled for tomorrow, a U.S. official said. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said here that Powell "expects a clear denunciation of terrorism," beginning with condemnation of yesterday's blast.

"It is important that Chairman Arafat not miss this opportunity to take a clear stand against the violence that harms the Palestinian cause," Boucher said.

The Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The militant group identified the attacker as Nidal Daraghmeh, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp, the site this week of the most intense fighting to date between Israeli and Palestinian forces.

The bomber struck outside the Mahane Yehuda fruit and vegetable market a little after 4 p.m., a few hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Police said the bomber wanted to get into the market - a frequent target - but couldn't because of more stringent security checks. She then went to a bus stop and blew herself up as the No. 6 bus passed.

"As I drove in, I checked and looked and saw no one suspicious," said the driver, Hussein Awadullah, interviewed in his hospital bed by Israeli television.

"I let the passengers off, closed the back door as they taught us so no suicide bomber could get on the bus," he said. "And I opened the front door to let passengers on, and suddenly I heard a huge explosion. I immediately opened the door to let people out and to help all the wounded get out."

The thud of the explosion was heard across the city. Sirens screeched as police and rescue crews raced to the scene.

Nearby streets were cleared, customers huddled in shops to watch news reports on television, and Israeli police and military fanned out.

What the rescue workers found at the blast site was a confined yet gruesome scene - blood, broken glass and bodies, some unrecognizable.

Marcel Hess, a rescue worker, said he saw the suicide bomber's body, describing the woman as "a very small person. Very young."

Asked what the carnage looked like, Hess said, "The problem is not how it looks; it is why does it happen."

There was a splotch of blood on the wall outside the Haba bakery, just in front of the bus stop. A few minutes before the blast, one of the customers at the bakery was Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who was buying cake and bread for the Sabbath.

Some at the scene were upset at what they said was American pressure to rein in the Israeli army, which has been carrying out a military operation in the West Bank for the past two weeks.

One man tried to start a chant of "Powell, go home," even as the last of the injured were taken from the scene.

Pnina Pilikofsky, who lives nearby, said: "I am angry with [President] Bush. Why should we stop? We should not make peace with the Arabs."

She then noticed a boy, around 14, who was cowering in an alley. His eyes were rimmed red; he was biting a fingernail and could barely speak.

He had witnessed the blast.

The bombing shadowed a day of desperate diplomatic maneuvering as Powell worked to stem the violence and persuade the Israelis to pull back.

Powell had a breakfast meeting with Sharon and later met with the Israeli leader and his security Cabinet before flying north to tour Israel's border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah fighters have staged attacks against Israeli posts.

Powell said, "I hope we can find a way to come to agreement on this point of the duration of the operations and get back to a track that will lead to a political settlement because that is uppermost in everyone's mind."

Sharon said Israel hopes "to conclude this war very soon" against the "Palestinian terrorist infrastructure."

He said during conversations with Powell that they "discussed the situation on the ground, discussed the dangerous situation in the north [along Israel's border with Lebanon], and we discussed possible solutions."

Sharon sought to globalize Israel's fight even as the country found itself increasingly isolated after its incursion in the West Bank.

"The suicide bombers' terrorism represents a danger for Israel and the entire free world," Sharon said.

Powell said he had "good discussions on the nature of the operation under way."

He said Sharon understood President Bush's position. Last week, Bush called on Israel to withdraw its troops from the West Bank "without delay."

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