Tel Aviv Suicide Bombing Kills at Least 4
Feb 25, 9:45 PM (ET)
By GAVIN RABINOWITZ
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of young Israelis waiting outside a nightclub near Tel Aviv's beachfront promenade just before midnight Friday, killing at least four other people, wounding dozens and shattering an informal Mideast truce.
A senior commander of a Palestinian militant group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran and has been trying to disrupt the cease-fire, hired a Palestinian from the northern West Bank to carry out the bombing. Palestinian security officials also implicated Hezbollah.
A Hezbollah official in Beirut denied involvement: "As far as we are concerned, there is no need to respond to such lies."
Israeli officials indicated that the attack would not derail the tentative peace efforts. But the bombing put new pressure on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to take action against militants who have not accepted the cease-fire he worked out with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a summit that was carefully orchestrated with the help of the United States, Egypt and other moderate Arab countries.
"The Palestinian Authority will not stand silent in the face of this act of sabotage. We will follow and track down those responsible and they will be punished accordingly," Abbas said in a statement after an emergency meeting with his security chiefs.
"What happened tonight was an act of sabotage toward the peace process and an attempt to ruin the efforts to establish a state of calm," Abbas said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms" and said it is essential that Palestinian leaders take "immediate, credible steps" to find those responsible.
Rice took note of the Palestinian condemnation of the attack. "We now must see actions that send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated," she said.
The senior commander who implicated Hezbollah is a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which is loosely tied to Abbas' Fatah party. Al Aqsa has largely honored Abbas' efforts to maintain a recent cease-fire with Israel. But elements of the militant group, which is comprised of many autonomous cells, are widely believed by Israeli and Palestinian officials to have received orders and funding from Hezbollah.
Palestinian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had tracked recent communications between Hezbollah militant Kais Obeid and a Palestinian who they believed was the attacker. They did not name the attacker.
Hezbollah's television station, Al Manar, reported that the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility; but the group, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas, both issued denials of involvement.
Hezbollah has emerged as the biggest threat to the fragile Israeli-Palestinian truce, with the Lebanese guerrillas offering West Bank gunmen thousands of dollars to attack Israelis. Hezbollah has hundreds of West Bank gunmen on its payroll.
The explosion took place as about 20 to 30 people were waiting to get into the Stage nightclub on Herbert Samuel street, close to the promenade.
"I was near the club. There were about 20 people outside. Suddenly, there was an enormous explosion," said a witness, identified only as Tsahi.
Security guards outside the club spotted the bomber and didn't allow him in, Tel Aviv police chief David Tzur said. "The impact, if he would have gone inside, would have been tragic," he said.
He said four people were killed and dozens wounded. Israeli media said more than 50 people were wounded, many of them seriously.
Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said the blast was exceptionally powerful, though he declined to confirm radio reports that the attacker had carried 20 pounds of explosives.
The blast ripped off the front of the nightclub, shattering windows of nearby restaurants and blackening cars. Dozens of ambulances and rescue workers pored through the scene, and police scoured the balconies of nearby buildings for evidence. Several covered bodies and a pool of blood lay on the ground.
A neighborhood shopkeeper, who identified himself only as Shlomo, said the blast was so powerful that it knocked a row of bottles off a shelf onto his head. "Immediately we knew it was an attack. It's a terrible feeling. We saw the people scattered all over," he said.
The Tel Aviv promenade has been hit before by Palestinian militants, including explosions in 2001 outside the Dolphinarium disco and Mike's Place, a popular pub.
The explosion shattered several weeks of calm. At the summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Feb. 8, Abbas and Sharon called for a halt in violence, pledging to break the four-year cycle of bloodshed and get peace talks back on track.
The two largest and most powerful Palestinian militant organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have so far refused to join a cease-fire officially, but have pledged to maintain the fragile calm.
The radical Palestinian factions are expected to hold talks with Egyptian officials next week on the cease-fire with Israel, a senior Hamas official said on condition of anonymity.
Gideon Ezra, the Israeli public security minister, called on the Palestinians "to do much more to prevent such attacks." But he said contacts with the Palestinians should continue.
Israel has so far welcomed Abbas' efforts to persuade militants to halt violence. But it wants the Palestinian leader to begin to take steps to dismantle militant groups.
"What we need now is action, and not words," said Gideon Meir, a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Earlier Friday, officials said Israel's defense minister ordered security officials to speed up the timetable for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer, hoping the accelerated schedule will impede efforts by Jewish extremists to disrupt the pullout.
With opposition growing increasingly heated, police opened an investigation into possible incitement by protesters who compared the planned evacuation to the Holocaust during a rally in Jerusalem.
Feb 26, '05
Israel freezes transfer of Palestinian towns
JERUSALEM, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Israel will freeze plans to transfer security control of West Bank towns to the Palestinians until they crack down on Islamic Jihad after a suicide bomb attack, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Saturday.
"The defence minister said that at this point the process of transferring Palestinian cities to Palestinian control is frozen until Israel ... evaluates whether (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas's government is indeed taking the necessary steps against Islamic Jihad and other terror groups," an Israeli defence ministry spokeswoman said.
The process of transferring towns to Palestinian control had already been stalled during talks between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, which began after leaders of both sides declared a truce at a summit on Feb. 8.
Last edit by BeachNurse on Feb 28, '05