Jerusalem — A former Palestinian policeman blew himself up Thursday afternoon in the heart of Jerusalem's shopping district, killing three Israelis, wounding more than 60 people and prompting Israel to call off a a round of U.S.- brokered truce talks.
The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which came a day after an Islamic militant set off explosions on a crowded bus in northern Israel, killing himself and seven others.
In Washington, the Bush administration said it was taking steps to declare the Al Aqsa group a terror organization. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Arafat and demanded that he denounce the bombing, spokesman Philip Reeker said. Later, Powell called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the State Department said. Sharon's office said Powell expressed condolences.
In a rare step, Arafat personally condemned the bombing and promised to take immediate steps to prevent such attacks.
But President Bush said he was "disappointed" by Arafat's response to calls for an end to attacks on Israel. "We've set some strong conditions," Bush said. "We expect Mr. Arafat to meet those conditions."
Thursday night's scheduled talks between Israeli and Palestinian security officials were called off Â by Israel, the Palestinians said Â and it was not clear whether the meeting would resume.
U.S. truce negotiator Anthony Zinni met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and senior Cabinet ministers late Thursday in an apparent effort to rescue his mission.
Israel held Arafat directly responsible. In a veiled warning that retaliation might be forthcoming, a statement from Sharon's office said, "Israel cannot continue for long a unilateral effort" to enforce a cease-fire. The statement said that Arafat "is solely responsible for the murderous terrorism."
On Wednesday in an effort not to disrupt Zinni's mission, Israel refrained from military action after the bombing on a commuter bus that killed the assailant and seven passengers.
"We must act," Israeli Interior Minister Eli Ishai said Thursday. "We are in a war, and the Americans must understand that."
Al Aqsa Brigades identified the suicide bomber as 22-year-old Mohammed Hashaika, a former Palestinian policeman.
Hashaika was arrested two months ago by Palestinian security agents as he prepared to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, the militia said. Hashaika was released last week from a Palestinian lockup in Ramallah, on the first day of an Israeli incursion into the West Bank town.
Israeli security sources said Hashaika was among dozens of suspected militants Israel had asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest.
An Al Aqsa spokesman, who used a nom de guerre, Abu Mujahed, said the militia would not stop attacks until there is a truce agreement. The spokesman said Arafat has not given orders to stop attacks on Israelis.