Bomb Blast in Israel Kills Three

Sunday, March 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NETANYA, Israel (AP) — A Palestinian militant detonated a bomb at a busy intersection during the Sunday morning rush hour in the coastal city of Netanya, killing himself and three Israelis and wounding at least 45, police said.

The bomb exploded just before 9 a.m., and the force hurled a car into the air, shattered shop windows and crumpled street stalls in the city's central market area. The Israeli dead included an 85-year-old man and two women, Israeli officials said.

``It was horrible, just horrible,'' said William Weiss, a municipal worker. ``There were hands, legs, flesh, and a head thrown around. It turned out that was apparently the terrorist's head.''

The attack — coming days after another bombing in northern Israel and a foiled attempt in Tel Aviv — deepened a sense of despair in Israel, where the government has been unable to stop attacks despite closing off Palestinian areas from Israel.

Israel's outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet that ``perseverance is required of us, and any behavior which does not reflect perseverance plays into the hands of the terrorists and to a certain extent encourages them.''

Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon said the country was ``facing an uneasy period that demonstrates the importance of a national unity government.''

Israel has been hit by multiple bombings since the Israel-Palestinian fighting began more than five months ago, and militant Islamic groups have vowed to continue attacks in an attempt to undermine Sharon, who could finalize his coalition government and take power as early as this week.

Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki confirmed that the bomber in Sunday's attack was among the four people killed.

The bomber was in a group of people standing at pedestrian crosswalk when the explosive detonated. The bomb, which was in a bag, was relatively small, the commissioner told Israel radio.

He put the injury toll at 45, a figure that apparently included people suffering from shock.

Several eyewitnesses said the bomber tried to get on a bus, but was prevented from doing so, and then detonated the bomb at the crosswalk.

Sunday is a work day in Israel, and the street was filled with people during the morning rush hour.

After the bombing, Israeli Jews badly beat an Arab man near the scene, and he was taken to the hospital, Aharonishki said. Police prevented several other attempted attacks and arrested a number of Israelis, he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

``Up to this moment, we don't know which party committed this operation,'' said Mahmoud Zahar, a spokesman for the militant Islamic group Hamas. But, he added, ``resistance will continue until we push the occupiers out of our land.''

On Jan. 1, Hamas claimed responsibility for a bombing that injured more than three dozen Israelis in Netanya.

Israeli officials have repeatedly accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of not taking action against Islamic militant groups.

``The element responsible for these terrorist attacks is the Palestinian Authority, not only because the attackers come from the territory under its control but also because they released all the Hamas and Islamic Jihad people from prison,'' said parliament member Moshe Arens, an associate of Sharon.

In a separate development, a Palestinian man was seriously wounded when he was shot in the abdomen in the central Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.

The violence that erupted last September has left Israelis badly shaken and contributed to the collapse of Barak's government and the breakdown of peace talks.

``I think we need to sit and talk and make peace, because without peace this won't stop,'' said Weiss, the municipal worker who witnessed the attack.

``I hope that Sharon will get to the negotiating table and that he and Arafat will settle this because this is too painful and it has to stop,'' he said.

Sharon, however, has said he will not reopen peace talks until the violence ends. And he has opposed Barak's peace offer to the Palestinians — a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza and a share of Jerusalem — as too generous. The Palestinians rejected the offers as not going far enough.

Overall, 422 people have been killed since the fighting began.