Bomber Kills 15 - Sharon
Vows To Uproot 'Terror'

By Megan Goldin and Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed on Tuesday to uproot "terrorism" after a suicide bomber in Israel killed at least 15 people and wounded 60 others, declaring: "The battle continues."
The devastating blast in Rishon Letzion south of Tel Aviv threw a dark shadow over earlier talks between President Bush and Sharon and raised questions about the effectiveness of Israel's military campaign in the West Bank.
"I say today Israel will not surrender to blackmail ... he who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt it and kill him first," Sharon told a news conference before breaking off his visit to Washington and flying home.
Sharon said the bombing at a billiards hall on Tuesday was "proof of the true intentions of those who lead the Palestinian Authority." The Palestinian Authority has condemned the attack, but Sharon has said its leaders, including Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, cannot be trusted.
"Israel will act the same as any democracy that protects itself. Israel will act like any other democracy which fights the forces of darkness. Israel will continue to uproot the terror infrastructure," he said.
In an apparent reference to the military onslaught against Palestinian towns of the last few weeks, which followed a wave of suicide bombings in Israel, Sharon said:
"The operation has yielded tremendous achievements but our work is not done. The battle continues and will continue until all those who believe that they can make gains through the use of terror will cease to exist."
The Israeli prime minister cut short his visit to the United States to return home because of the bombing, canceling meetings later in the day with members of the U.S. Congress and a planned visit to New York on Wednesday. He will fly home later on Tuesday, an Israeli spokesman said.
The bomb exploded just before Sharon and Bush met at the White House to discuss the Middle East crisis, with Sharon once again seeking to sideline Arafat.
"The president was able therefore to personally convey his condolences ... and to register his disgust at this wanton taking of innocent life," said White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
An Israeli police spokeswoman said the bomb, packed with nails and metal shards, killed 15 people at the billiards club. Police said at least 60 were injured, some critically.
"They (witnesses) noticed a stranger. He had an odd expression. He walked three to four steps inside and detonated his explosives. There was no time to get away," a police spokesman told reporters at the scene.
It was the first suicide attack since Israel launched its offensive on March 29 in the West Bank aimed at uprooting suicide bombers.
The U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn Israel's six-week-old West Bank offensive, but 54 countries were jolted into abstaining after news of the bomb. The vote was 74 to 4 with 54 abstentions.
Al-Manar television run by Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon said the militant Hamas group claimed responsibility. Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip did not confirm or deny the report.
Israel blamed the blast on Arafat's Palestinian Authority, although the Authority issued a statement condemning the blast and vowing to act against those behind it.
Israeli forces have stopped at least one suicide bomb every day for the past week, security officials said, adding that two militants planning suicide attacks were arrested by troops during a raid on the West Bank city of Tulkarm on Tuesday.
But Sharon is certain to face criticism from right-wing Israeli politicians that he wound down the West Bank offensive too quickly, without finishing the declared task of eliminating militants. He will now face pressure to hit back hard.
"We have withdrawn our forces too soon (from the West Bank) ... You cannot negotiate with terrorism. You have to uproot it. it's like a cancer," Public Security Minister Uzi Landau told reporters.
Bush said after meeting Sharon, whom he calls a "man of peace" despite this spring's offensive, he was sending CIA Director George Tenet to the Middle East to work on building a new Palestinian security force.
Bush and Sharon both urged reforms within the Palestinian Authority, with the U.S. president urging the authority to adopt a constitution and Sharon saying reforms must precede any discussion of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli leader brought fresh demands for a major restructuring of the Palestinian Authority that would limit Arafat's influence, as well as documents purporting to outline the Palestinian leader's connections to financing terror.
Although Bush views Arafat with open mistrust, he remains committed to dealing with him as the recognized leader of the Palestinian people.
Bush sidestepped differences with Sharon over Arafat by saying that dealing with the Palestinian leader was Sharon's decision to make. "I'm never going to tell my friend, the prime minister, what to do," Bush said.
In the Middle East, efforts to end a 36-day-old armed standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity stalled when Italy refused to accept 13 Palestinian militants holed up inside one of Christianity's holiest shrines.
Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to a U.S. and European Union brokered deal in which 13 gunmen on Israel's wanted list would go to Egypt and then into exile in Italy.
But Italy said it had been kept in the dark and could not consider accepting the men for now.


This Site Served by TheHostPros