Explosion in Central Israel Kills 8
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
RISHON LETZION, Israel (AP) - A suicide bomber blew himself up at a bus stop crowded with soldiers at rush hour Tuesday, killing eight people including himself and wounding more than a dozen.
The bomber struck at a busy bus stop near both the Assaf Harofeh Hospital and the Tsrifin army base near the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion. Crowds fled the area screaming.
Fifteen people were being treated at the hospital, all but one of them soldiers, spokeswoman Nurit Nehemia said. Others were treated for minor injuries and released.
Security officials said there were many soldiers at the bus stop, where ambulances quickly lined up to take away the wounded.
Three bodies lay in the street, and police said they believed the suicide bomber was among them. The walls of a nearby bus shelter were spattered with blood from the attack, which occurred about 6 p.m., just as the soldiers were returning home.
Israeli officials quickly blamed the Palestinian Authority.
``The attack today is further indication that the Palestinian Authority is doing absolutely nothing whatsoever to rein in terrorists or to dismantle the terror infrastructure in their areas,'' said David Baker, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is visiting India.
Palestinian legislator Saeb Ereket condemned the attack, saying the Palestinians urge the United States and the international community to ``de-escalate the violence and implement the road map.''
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
An official from the militant Hamas group - which has carried out most of the 101 suicide bombings against Israeli targets in the last three years of fighting - did not say whether the group was behind the attack, but the group has threatened revenge for recent Israeli airstrikes targeting its leaders.
``This operation, whoever is behind it, is a natural reaction for the bloody aggression against our people, the assassination of our people, the killing of our children, demolishing our houses, and terrorizing our innocent people,'' said the Hamas official, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said ``the responsibility is shared between the organization that carried out the atrocity and the Palestinian Authority that did nothing to prevent it, and Israel will react accordingly.''
Israeli authorities had been on high alert in the wake of Saturday's botched attempt to kill Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas. Security was especially tight in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
The explosion comes as Israeli Cabinet and security officials have been calling for the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - whom Israel holds responsible for the attacks - and there has been speculation that a suicide bombing that causes many fatalities might trigger such a move. The United States has blocked the idea in the past.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli troops killed two Hamas militants and a 12-year-old boy in a raid in the West Bank city of Hebron, witnesses and Israeli security officials said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the men was the head of Hamas in Hebron, Ahmed Bader, and the other was Izzedine Mesk, who they believed was related to a suicide bomber who killed 22 people on a Jerusalem bus last month.
The troops also blew up a seven-story apartment building where the militants had been hiding out.
The violence comes as Israeli officials said they would judge Ahmed Qureia, the candidate for Palestinian prime minister, by the extent to which he is prepared to comply with the U.S.-backed ``road map'' peace plan.
``We will judge any Palestinian prime minister by his actions,'' Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in a statement. ``He will have to decide whether he stands with Arafat or whether he stands against terrorism. His first step must be to make the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.''
After Saturday's resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Israel initially said it would not deal with a successor hand-picked by Arafat. However, Sharon's aides said Tuesday that Qureia could be a partner if he carries out the Palestinians' obligations under the road map peace plan, including disarming militants.
Qureia said he will ``not be under an Israeli dictate'' and will only be guided by the Palestinian national interest. He did not elaborate, but was expected to stick to Abbas' policy of refusing to clamp down on militants.
Other Israelis remained sharply critical of Qureia.
Commenting on the changes, Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, did not refer to Qureia by name, but said ``there is an attempt now to reverse the process'' of reform headed by Abbas, put forward a leadership will all paths leading to Arafat and ``promote the logic of a temporary cease-fire, instead of an effort to dismantle the terror infrastructure.''
Speaking at a counterterrorism conference, Yaalon also hinted Israel also could start targeting militant leaders from Syria to Lebanon to Iran who support Palestinian terror cells, saying ``all leaderships should be held accountable.''
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also told legislators: ``We are not going to cooperate with people who are doing what Arafat says.''
In the West Bank city of Hebron, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Thaher Siyouri, was killed by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell fired at a suspected militants' hideout, witnesses said. He was watching the fighting with his family from the third floor of a nearby building.
Before demolishing the building, witnesses said the army sent two Palestinians inside, apparently to search it. Israel's Supreme Court has outlawed the practice of using Palestinian civilians as ``human shields.'' The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report.
Qureia, the Palestinian parliament speaker and one of the key people who helped negotiate the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accord, was nominated Sunday by Arafat to replace Abbas.
Qureia has accepted the post in principle, but says Israel must take action on the road map, which envisions a Palestinian state in 2005.
Qureia said his first order of business would be negotiating a cease-fire with Israel. He warned that unless Israel lessens its hostility to Arafat and ends airstrikes on militant leaders, he'd be doomed to failure.
The nominee, who met with Arafat on Tuesday for the second time in two days, said he will need the Palestinian leader's backing to govern.
Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Sharon, told reporters in India that the Palestinian leadership must choose the path of peace if it wants Israel to cooperate.
Sharon's aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Qureia could be a partner.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday: ``It will be critical that the new Cabinet continues to press for reforms and continues to fight terrorism.''
Qureia is the No. 3 leader in Fatah, after Arafat and Abbas. Considered a moderate, the 65-year-old has maneuvered between Arafat and reform-minded legislators as parliament speaker.
Abbas, appointed in April under Israeli and U.S. pressure, was unpopular among Palestinians precisely because he was backed by Israel and frequently wrangled with Arafat. He resigned after Arafat refused to put the security services under his control.
Three Killed in Blast at Jerusalem Cafe
By JASON KEYSER
JERUSALEM (AP) - A suicide bomber blew himself up at a cafe in Jerusalem Tuesday night, killing at least three other people and wounding about 40 others, rescue workers and witnesses said.
The bomber struck at the popular Cafe Hillel on a strip with many restaurants and small shops. Ambulances rushed to the residential neighborhood, and workers carried away the wounded on stretchers.
Four bodies were seen at the site of the blast, Israel Army radio reported. It was unclear if one of them was the bomber, who police said managed to get into the cafe even though two security guards were posted at the entrance - one inside the door and one outside.
Jerusalem police commander Mickey Levy told Israel Radio that one of the guards saw the bomber and tried to stop him, and that he then set off the bomb.
``I have a store next to the cafe. I arrived just a few moments after the blast. I saw things that just can't be described, there are no words,'' said a witness who identified himself only as Shavi.
Hundreds of people milled about at the spot where the blast shattered the cafe's front windows and knocked down its sign. One body lay at the entrance covered in a white blanket, and the street was strewn with glass.
One of the supporting columns inside the cafe was splattered with blood.
The blast set off the siren alarms of dozens of parked cars nearby. Police were breaking windos of cars to check if they contain bombs.
Police cordoned off the area while rescue workers treated sobbing victims, and a dazed, wounded man sat on the street, holding a bloody T-short to his head.
The blast followed came just hours after another suicide bombing at an army base outside Tel Aviv that killed seven and wounded more than a dozen.
The suicide bombers struck while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was away on a visit to India. Militants have frequently carried out terror attacks during Sharon's visits abroad - occasionally causing him to cut trips short. Israeli officials said a decision on whether or not Sharon would cut short his visit to India was not likely before morning.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, the acting prime minister, were in consultation about the first attack when the second one happened.
CNN Reports - 9 Sept 03