Three Reported Dead in Tel Aviv Explosions
Tel Aviv police commander Yossi Sedbon told Israeli Radio that the blasts were the work of “two suicide bombers.”
The tandem bombings reportedly occurred seconds apart in a crowded neighborhood in the southern part of Tel Aviv’s downtown district. One bomb went off near a cafe at the entrance to the Central Theater.
Hizbollah’s al-Manar television station, the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv attacks.
The bombings came hours after Israel Defense Forces launched an air strike against a metal works factory in Gaza that the army believes is used by the militant group Hamas. There were no immediate reports of casualties related to the missile strike.
In another development, two Palestinians were killed and at least nine others wounded in Ramallah after an explosion in the al-Amari refugee camp. It was not clear what caused the blast.
The rapid developments followed a day that saw an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian gunman were killed during heavy exchanges of gunfire, as Israeli forces launched a massive manhunt in the West Bank for militants who attacked a bus near a Jewish settlement, killing eight Israelis and wounding 16.
Tuesday’s attack on the armored vehicle, which took place near an ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlement between the towns of Nablus and Qalqilya, occurred when Palestinians disguised as Israeli soldiers detonated a bomb near the vehicle and then opened fire at the fleeing passengers.
The death toll reached eight when a baby boy died after being prematurely delivered by emergency Cesarean section, doctors said. The baby’s mother, Yehudit Weinberg, 22, was eight months pregnant and was shot seven times, according to media reports. Weinberg remains hospitalized in serious condition.
Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades all claimed responsibility for the ambush, which was similar to a December attack on a bus in the same area. That attack, which Hamas claimed, killed 11 people.
The ambush led Israeli officials to call off planned high-level meetings with Palestinian officials scheduled for Wednesday. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who supported resuming talks with Palestinian officials, said the Palestinians were harming themselves by carrying out attacks.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the attack and said Israel would remain in Palestinian areas until security forces are restructured to stop terrorism.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the incident “as part of its continuous policy which rejects targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians,” but added that peace will only come from “a political solution that ends the occupation” in that area.
Tuesday’s attack also came as leaders from the United States, Russia, Europe and the United Nations, known as the “Quartet”, concluded a meeting New York to discuss a new Mideast peace plan.
“I think we have a pretty good plan,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters without discussing any details of the talks.
The members of the Quartet discussed concerns for the Palestinian people and the creation of a Palestinian state but disagreed over the future role of Arafat. U.S. administration officials maintain that Arafat must be replaced while other world leaders believe he has a legitimate role as leader of the Palestinian people.
Speaking after the meeting, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “We all have our respective positions” on Arafat and added, “The UN still recognizes Chairman Arafat and we will continue to deal with him.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Arafat rejected U.S. demands that he be replaced and said he plans to run in the planned January elections if the Palestinian Authority approves his candidacy.
In a separate move, Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Sha’ath told the Associated Press Wednesday that Arafat is considering the appointment of a prime minister to aid in the administration of a future Palestinian state. Sha’ath said that Arafat had signed a decree enabling a team of legal experts to assess the creation of a Prime Minister post and other potential constitutional issues.