Suicide Bomber Killed, Dozens Injured in Jerusalem Bomb Blasts
A suspected suicide bomber was blown apart and around 30 people injured in two bomb attacks just hours apart in Jerusalem Tuesday, in an escalation of violence that triggered fierce recriminations on both sides.
The attacks followed the killing of a 10-month old Jewish baby in the West Bank town of Hebron which has raised calls among Jewish settlers and right-wingers for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take a tougher line against the Palestinians.
"Everybody in this country is under the direct attack of Mr. Arafat and we have to do something about that," said Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, referring to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In the first attack, a car bomb slightly injured three people near a supermarket in the commercial and industrial area of Talpiot in southwest Jerusalem during the morning rush hour.
The second blast ripped through a bus in the French Hill district on the edge of east Jerusalem, an area occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
The bomber was blown apart and up to 30 people were injured.
"The confrontation is expanding because of the policies announced by Sharon while he is launching an all-out war against the Palestinian people," Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters at the Arab summit in Amman.
"The situation in the Palestinian territories is at its most dangerous level."
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the attacks appeared aimed at pressuring Israel during the summit, where the raging six-month tide of Israeli Palestinian violence was at the top of the agenda.
"They will get nothing from us through force," he told public radio.
"This is apparently the use of force to make an impression on the summit and on us," said Peres, the leading dove in the right-wing-dominated government Sharon.
Sharon called a meeting of cabinet ministers and security officials after the bombings, the latest in a string of attacks to rock Israel since the hardline former general was elected prime minister seven weeks ago.
Israel radio reported that during the meeting, the leaders said unrest could persist for years, but insisted that Israel will continue to fight "terror" according to "operational guidelines and developments on the ground."
The attacks occurred as several thousand Palestinians took to the streets to protest at the siege on the West Bank and Gaza Strip imposed since the Palestinian revolt erupted six months ago, leaving more than 440 people dead.
"It is another escalation in the wave of terrorist attacks," Jerusalem police chief Miki Levy told reporters.
"What is clear to us now from information we have gathered is that the explosion went off outside the bus, and we have the mangled body of the terrorist who had explosives on him."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bus attack, although the radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said it was behind the Talpiot car bomb, which occurred at around 7:40 am (0540 GMT)
A statement sent to AFP in Beirut said Islamic Jihad's "Jerusalem Brigades" were retaliating for "crimes committed by the Zionist enemy against our families in Hebron last night."
The Israeli army closed off Hebron and imposed a curfew on Arab residents following the killing of 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass, who was shot in the head and her father injured by a suspected Palestinian sniper.
Overnight, Jewish settlers tried to move into Abu Sneinah, the apparent source of the shooting, provoking clashes with Palestinians before the army intervened. Settlers also set fire to Palestinian offices in Hebron in retaliation for the killing.
Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party, which champions the cause of settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territories, called for the army to reoccupy the area and criticised Sharon for continuing a policy of restraint in responding to Palestinian violence.
"Every day there will be another diplomatic reason (not to respond)," charged Yahalom.
Islamic Jihad said it would "continue the struggle against the Zionist enemy," adding that "this heroic operation is not and will not be the last."
It was designed to show Sharon that "the determination of our people is stronger than the steel of his tanks, and that our hand is long and can reach the heart of the Zionist entity, despite security measures."
Islamic Jihad, like the larger Hamas movement, rejects the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians and has carried out numerous anti-Israeli attacks.
Since Sharon's February 6 election, 12 Israelis have been killed in attacks in Israel. The deadliest was when eight were mown down by a Palestinian bus driver near Tel Aviv on February 14.
On March 4, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the northern resort of Netanya, killing three other people and injuring dozens more.
On Monday night, an explosive device was defused in the centre of Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, while overnight Thursday another bomb exploded in an industrial zone in the resort of Herzliya on the Mediterranean coast.
The most recent bomb blast in Jerusalem was on February 8 in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood that left one woman lightly injured – (AFP)
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