SUICIDE BOMBING IN ISRAEL'S TEL AVIV WOUNDS 15
JAN 19 2006
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A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a restaurant at a crowded pedestrian mall near Tel Aviv's old central bus station Thursday, and at least 15 people were wounded, police said.
The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility in a phone call to The Associated Press.
"This happened in two seconds, he entered the shop, took two steps, and blew himself up," said Ari Sharon, owner of the targeted restaurant, the Mayor's Shwarma.
A witness, who identified himself only as Itzik, said he was eating at a fast-food stand when he began suspecting the man standing next to him.
"All of a sudden, a policeman came.
He pulled him (the suspect) out, and started searching him," he told Israel Radio. The suspect fled, Itzik said, and five minutes later, the explosion was heard.
In Ramallah, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the bombing was meant to derail next week's Palestinian parliamentary elections.
"This is sabotage and aimed at sabotaging the elections, not only the elections, but also the security of Palestinians," Abbas said. "The culprits must be punished."
Witnesses said the bomber entered the restaurant pretending to be a peddler selling disposable razors. Israel radio reported he was carrying a heavy pack on his back.
Police said the bomber blew himself up in the restaurant's bathroom and may have been trying to prepare the explosive device when it went off prematurely.
After the blast, a crowd gathered outside the restaurant. An elderly man wearing a felt hat wept.
The blast came just a week before Palestinian parliament elections, and two weeks after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a devastating stroke.
Handling the aftermath of the bombing, and deciding on a possible Israeli response will be a key test for Sharon's stand-in, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Israelis and Palestinians not to let the attack derail the Palestinian elections.
Solana said the attack occurred at a moment of great importance "for the future of Palestine, because of elections." He appealed "to everybody to forget terrorist acts and to give political life a chance. Elections are the only way civilized countries can express themselves."
Medics said one person was seriously wounded.
"It was a single suicide bomber who entered the restaurant and blew himself up inside the restaurant," said Tel Aviv police commander David Tsur. He said there were no fatalities but 15 people were wounded.
The blast went off in a pedestrian mall near the old central bus station, an area crowded with shoppers and travelers. The bus station is in a working class neighborhood, where many foreign workers live.
Blood, shattered glass and debris covered the ground near shops. The windows of a parked car near the blast were blown out, and helmeted security forces cordoned off the area.
The Islamic Jihad militant group has claimed responsibility for each of the six suicide bombings in Israel since a truce took effect last February.
"The Tel Aviv bombing is another example of the utter refusal of the Palestinian Authority to take any steps to prevent terror against Israel.
The Palestinian Authority remains apathetic to preventing this terror," said David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, called the bombing an act of sabotage against Palestinian parliamentary balloting scheduled for Wednesday.
"We condemn this attack," he said. "This is an attack to sabotage the Palestinian elections and sabotage the efforts being exerted to revive the peace process after the elections."
It was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Dec. 5, when a bomber detonated explosives outside a shopping mall in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya, killing five Israelis.
The old bus station has been targeted by bombers three times in the past five years. In January 2003, 23 people were killed and about 120 wounded in a double suicide bombing in the area.
A year earlier, 25 people were wounded in a blast outside a cafe near the bus station.
Israel Radio reported police were reinforcing their patrols throughout Israel on Thursday.
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