(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,"
- 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
- FIRST SUICIDE ATTACK SINCE OFFENSIVE STARTED
- 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
- 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
- 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
- PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY REFORMS URGED
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.