Suicide bombing in Tel Aviv breaks Mideast cease-fire

Israelis, Palestinians vow to continue peace efforts

4 dead, dozens hurt at club

February 26, 2005|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up late last night near a line of people waiting to enter a Tel Aviv nightclub, killing four people, injuring at least 50 others and breaking a two-week-old cease-fire that had brought renewed hopes for peace in the Middle East.

Last night it remained unclear who was responsible for carrying out the attack. Israeli news media were reporting that the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing, but later indicated that the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which has been attempting to disrupt peace efforts, might have carried out the attack.

A Hezbollah official speaking to the Associated Press denied any involvement.

The bombing is the first major attack since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a de facto truce on Feb. 8. Despite some minor incidents in the past two weeks, the cease-fire had been honored by the major Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas.

Whoever was responsible, the Israelis and Palestinians promised not to allow it to disrupt their peace efforts.

Early this morning, Abbas pledged to track down the perpetrators.

"The Palestinian Authority will not stand silent in the face of this act of sabotage. We will follow and track down those responsible, and they will be punished accordingly," Abbas said in a statement after an emergency meeting with his security chiefs.

"What happened tonight was an act of sabotage toward the peace process and an attempt to ruin the efforts to establish a state of calm," Abbas said.

"We condemn this bombing in the strongest possible terms," said Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator, who offered Palestinian assistance in investigating the bombing.

"Whoever did this was trying to sabotage the peace process. I don't think they can succeed. We have to continue the peace process. We can't allow this to derail the peace process. Violence will bring more violence. Bullets will bring more bullets. That is not the answer."

Israeli response

Ranaan Gissin, Sharon's spokesman, said Israel did not want this bombing to derail negotiations, but also must act to defend its citizens.

"It's true that Abu Mazen and the Palestinians have taken some steps, but they haven't taken any real steps to dismantle terrorist organizations," he said.

"Arrest the people. Disarm them. Take away their weapon. Today it's against us. Tomorrow it will be against them."

Gissin said the Israelis would respond in some way to the attack. "We'll feel free to take whatever steps we need to take to protect our citizens," he said.

The blast was the first suicide attack in Israel since a bomber killed two people in a Tel Aviv market on Nov. 1.

The explosion occurred outside Tel Aviv's Stage nightclub about 11:30 p.m., soon after the beachfront club opened its doors to crowds of Friday night partygoers.

Israeli police said the suicide bomber was standing on the sidewalk near a line of about 20 to 30 people waiting to enter the club.

The blast shattered restaurant and storefront windows and tossed pieces of flesh onto parked cars and into the street. The busy corner was filled with black smoke.

"The minute I heard the explosions I ran outside. It was full of wounded people on the ground," said Yoshka Mabe, 55, who lives nearby.

"There was lots of black smoke. I saw four bodies, all of them with blood on their faces. One of them, the face had almost disappeared."

Yaakov Sason, 45, owner of a restaurant opposite the club, said he had his back turned when the blast occurred. "I turned around and I saw the damage. Everything was dark and people were shouting," he said.

Optimism remains

But he expressed optimism that a peace deal with the Palestinians still had a chance.

"A suicide bomber is not going to stop the peace process," he said. "The people who explode themselves are not going to stop the process. One week from today it will be a matter of the past."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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