- A Palestinian suicide bomber disguised as an Israeli
solider killed himself and two men in the frequently targeted Israeli coastal
town of Netanya, which ruptured a period of calm and raised the threat
of new Israeli counter-strikes.
- While the blast was claimed by Islamic radicals Hamas
in an anonymous phone call to AFP in Jerusalem, Israel immediately laid
the blame on the Palestinian Authority, currently struggling to outline
a reform package to restore its credibility.
- Israeli police spokesman Super Intendant Gil Kleiman
said the bomber was disguised in an Israeli army uniform when he detonated
explosives strapped to his body and packed with metal nuts and bolts. The
blast ripped through a downtown fruit and vegetable market in Netanya,
injuring 55 people.
- The body of the bomber and an Israeli man were found
on the ruined street, Kleiman added.
- Medical sources said another man died of his wounds a
short time later, adding that 10 of the wounded were listed in serious
- Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday
postponed a meeting with his central election committee to discuss planned
polls, as committee members from Gaza were unable to make it to the West
Bank, a Palestinian official said.
- Instead, the meeting of the West Bank members went ahead
under the chairmanship of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's number
two Mahmud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the official added.
- Sunday's blast came after police were put on high alert
in the north of the country. It was the first such attack since a suicide
bombing in a pool hall in Rishon Letsion, just south of Tel Aviv, on May
7 that killed 16 people.
- Netanya is just 10 kilometres (six miles) from the West
Bank town of Tulkarem, which Israel says is a staging post for suicide
bombers sneaking into Israel's crowded coastal plain.
- The coastal town was on March 27 the site of the worst
suicide attack in 20 months of regional unrest, when a bomber killed 29
Israelis in a hotel.
- That attack triggered Israel's largest West Bank invasion
since the 1967 Middle East war.
- Palestinian security officials said that Israeli forces
staged a minor incursion into Tulkarem in the immediate aftermath of the
blast and seized two men.
- In an anonymous phone call to the AFP bureau in Jerusalem,
a man claiming to represent Hamas claimed the attack in the name of the
radical Islamic group, which also carried out the last attack in Netanya.
- "The Islamic Resistance Movement and its al-Qassam
military branch claim the martyr operation of Netanya," the caller
said, using the militant group's full name.
- But Israel said Arafat's Palestinian Authority was to
blame for failing to stem such attacks.
- "We consider the Authority responsible for this
attack since it is doing nothing to prevent terrorist actions," a
spokesman for the foreign ministry, Yaffa ben Ari, told AFP.
- However, US Vice President Dick Cheney refrained from
the harsh criticism of Arafat typical from the White House, which often
accuses the Palesitnian leader of failing to fight "terrorism".
- Instead, Cheney said Arafat could not control suicide
bombers, backed by Iran and Syria, intent on hitting Israel.
- "There clearly is a class of bombings that he can't
(control), that relates to groups supported for example by Syria and Iran,
the Hezbollah and Hamas factions that don't come under his purview,"
he told US television.
- US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice also provided
- "No one ever asked Yasser Arafat to get 100 percent
results. What has been asked of him is 100 percent effort," Rice told
- The Palestinians moved quickly to preempt any harsh Israeli
- Arafat said in an Italian television interview that he
condemned attacks against Israeli civilians, following the suicide bombing.
- And the Palestinian Authority issued its own statement
condemning the "terrorist operation" in the Israeli town.
- "To attack civilians in this way goes against the
decisions of the Palestinian Authority and labels our people with accusations
of terrorism while they are struggling to recover their rights and shake
off the racist occupation and settlements," it said.
- After the last suicide bombing in Rishon Letsion 12 days
ago, Israel had been poised to launch a major offensive into the Gaza Strip
to tackle Hamas in its traditional bastion, which was untouched by the
massive operation in the West Bank launched on March 29.
- Israel stood down its troops amid US and international
pressure, but reserved the right to launch more targetted strikes if Hamas
made good on its pledge to carry on attacks which it says are aimed at
ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
- The bombing came as the Palestinian Authority contemplated
an array of reforms to root out corruption and inefficiency and in particular
to streamline its sprawling security services which have been unable to
halt suicide attacks.
- The West Bank offensive, which lasted the whole of April,
shook the Authority to its foundations.
- Arafat said last week he would undertake a major reform
programme, although Israel discounted such pledges as empty, and said there
would be no new talks until Arafat followed through.
- Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said
Sunday there could be no elections until Israel lifted its "apartheid"
system in the West Bank with severely hinders free movement.
- Arafat could meet with his elections committee Wednesday,
if Israel allows members to travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
- Sunday's committee meeting of West Bank members was said
to be reviewing the effects of travel restrictions on any potential vote.