Suicide bomber kills 19 in Israel

Female Palestinian sets off explosives in restaurant

Officials discuss exiling Arafat

Army says to expect harsh military response

October 05, 2003|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Nineteen people were killed and dozens more injured when a female Palestinian suicide bomber detonated explosives yesterday in a packed seaside restaurant in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, a community that is known for its coexistence of Jews and Arabs.

The blast, which occurred the day before the start of the solemn Yom Kippur holiday, destroyed the inside of the Maxim restaurant and raised the prospect that Israel might exile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a threat the government made after a pair of attacks killed 15 people Sept. 11.

Senior Israeli army commanders and other security officials met last night, and aides said that exiling Arafat was among the topics being discussed. But army officials told Israeli Radio to expect a harsh military response that could include increased raids in the West Bank and more assassinations of militant leaders.

Hours after the attack, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at an empty home near the beach in Gaza City and at a house belonging to an Islamic Jihad militant leader in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, Arafat's armed guards took up defensive positions at his headquarters in Ramallah, where the mood was described as tense. Israeli officials have raised the possibility of tightening the siege on Arafat's compound, which has been imposed for the past 18 months.

Palestinian officials quickly condemned the bombing last night, for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. They called for American intervention to restart the stalled peace plan known as the "road map."

The Palestinian prime minister-designee, Ahmed Qureia, known as Abu Ala, called Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and offered his condolences. But Israeli officials dismissed the talk as rhetoric, and indicated that Arafat's days are numbered if he does not act to dismantle militant groups.

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said that yesterday's attack is further proof of Arafat's complicity in bombings or his unwillingness to stop them, and that the next day or two is crucial for the peace process.

"We now really expect the international community to send a clear, decisive and unequivocal demand to the Palestinian Authority leadership to begin dismantling the terrorist institutions," he said. "It has to be done now. Not a minute or a day later. We are running out of time, patience and hope. Every minute that the Palestinians are not fighting terror is a minute less for a chance for a peace agreement."

The popular restaurant, frequented by players for the Maccabi Haifa professional soccer team and known for its Middle Eastern food, has been co-owned by an Israeli Jew and an Israeli-Arab Christian since 1965. It is on a major road at the southern edge of the city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at the bottom of Mount Carmel.

Ruth Ginton, a 72-year-old grandmother, told reporters she had just placed her order with a waiter "when we heard a huge explosion. I first thought it was an earthquake because the ceiling started to fall and the glass was shattering. Then there was a terrible silence, and then screaming. People who were one second earlier smiling and eating were lying on the floor in pools of blood."

The body of a man wearing a glow-in-the-dark vest was lying face down near the entrance. Inside, tables were overturned and blood covered the floor. Among the dead were three children, an infant about 2 months old, a family of three, and five Israeli-Arabs, some of them restaurant employees. Three Haifa soccer officials, but no players, were injured.

A rabbi and member of a group of ultra-Orthodox volunteers that retrieves the remains of the dead from attacks was seen on Israeli television picking up a blood-soaked bottle half-full of baby's milk and a diaper.

In a telephone call to the Reuters news agency, Islamic Jihad identified the dead bomber as Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, a law student between 23 and 27 years old from the northern West Bank city of Jenin. She is not the first female suicide bomber, but it is unusual for an Islamic fundamentalist group to use women to carry out attacks.

Palestinian officials said that the Israeli army killed Jaradat's brother and cousin, an Islamic Jihad activist, several months ago. Islamic Jihad said the blast was in response to continued arrests and killings of suspected militants by Israel.

The explosion occurred about 2:15 p.m. when the large restaurant was full of people enjoying a day off from work on the Sabbath. Such attacks are unusual before nightfall on Saturdays because relatively few places are open.

Israeli police said the bomber infiltrated Israel from the north through two Arab cities near the line that divides the West Bank - in a spot where a security fence, being built by Israel and criticized by the United States for encroaching on Palestinian land, has not been completed.

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