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Archive for Monday, May 20, 2002

Suicide bomber blows himself up at northern Israeli junction

May 20, 2002

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— A Palestinian militant detonated explosives at a busy intersection Monday as he was approached by police killing himself, but causing no other injuries in the second suicide bombing in northern Israel in two days.

On Sunday, three Israelis and a bomber were killed in a blast in an outdoor market in the coastal city of Netanya. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, a radical PLO faction, claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack.

The PFLP is headed by Ahmed Saadat, who is detained in a Palestinian jail in the West Bank town of Jericho under British and U.S. supervision, along with a Palestinian Authority official suspected of weapons smuggling and four PFLP members convicted of killing an Israeli Cabinet minister.

An Israeli government spokesman, Danny Shek, said Israel has information that Saadat "might have been instrumental in commanding and masterminding the bombing." Shek said the circumstances of Saadat's detention should be looked at. However, Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin Pelossof said Monday there was no conclusive proof that Saadat ordered the Netanya attack.

Saadat has given a phone interview from detention, and Israeli media reports said he had access to phones and has received visits from PFLP activists.

British diplomats supervising Saadat's detention had no comment.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's attack at the Taanakhim Junction, a few miles west of the West Bank.

Police said a local driver notified authorities when a man waiting at the junction's bus stop aroused his suspicion. When the patrol asked the man for identification, he detonated explosives he was carrying, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman.

In Sunday's attack in Netanya, three Israelis were killed and about 50 wounded. Among those killed was Arkady Wieselman, 39, a hotel chef who had narrowly escaped the March 27 bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 29 diners were killed the deadliest bombing since such attacks began several years ago.

Police said that over the weekend, there had been warnings of attempts to carry out an attack in the Netanya area, but officers failed to find the attacker who was dressed in Israeli army uniform.

"I saw a bearded man, sweating a little, wearing an army uniform and a black coat and a big bag over it," Erez Naftali, a fish vendor in the market, told the Maariv daily. "He looked suspicious to us, but it was too late."

In the West Bank city of Nablus, armed and masked men paraded through the streets with loudspeakers claiming responsibility for the attack in the name of the PFLP, the group that was behind the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi last year. The group did not identify Sunday's assailant.

Israeli tanks briefly entered the West Bank towns of Tulkarem and Ramallah late Sunday, but there was no major retaliation for the Netanya bombing.

There had been a brief lull in attacks as Israel's six-week military operation against Palestinian militias in the West Bank wound down earlier this month. However, the pace appears to be picking up again. On May 7, an attack on a pool hall near Tel Aviv killed 15 Israelis. The bomber was sent by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Israeli commentators warned Monday that the relative calm would quickly dissipate without real efforts to resume peace talks. "The diplomatic vacuum is fertile ground for the terror infrastructure, which is rebuilding itself despite the pressure of the Shin Bet security service and the Israeli military," wrote military commentator Alex Fishman in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres outlined his latest peace plan, which calls for the Palestinian Authority to carry out reforms, in particular the unification of rival security agencies, and calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in areas already under Palestinian control.

Palestinian autonomous areas now cover some two-thirds of the Gaza Strip and islands of territory amounting to about 40 percent of the West Bank.

Neither Palestinians or Israeli leaders have endorsed the plan. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has accepted a Palestinian state in principle, has said it can only be established after a long interim process that would last years.

Meanwhile, cracks have emerged in Sharon's coalition government, made up of Peres' left-center Labor party and Sharon's right-wing Likud party, along with smaller parties.

Sharon's party recently voted against its leader and ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Labor party members have recently presented opposing plans calling for unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian areas or the creation of buffer zones between Palestinian and Israeli population centers.

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