A dozen people were injured in the explosion, and another 100 were treated for shock.
So far, none of the militant Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad or Hamas have taken responsibility for the attack.
Israeli police have not ruled it a suicide bombing since the woman’s body was so badly blown apart it was impossible to tell whether the explosives were strapped to her body, or if she intended to plant the bomb.
“We know that she was either holding [explosives] or had something on her,” police spokesman Gil Kleiman said. “We still don’t know for sure that she was a suicide bomber.”
If it was a suicide attack, it would be the first one carried out by a woman in the region in over 15 years.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported that the bomber was Shinaz Amuri, a student at Al-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus. However, neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities could confirm this and the university did not have anyone registered by that name.
As the Israeli government decides how to respond, police took up positions on rooftops and street corners. Members of the anti-terrorism unit rode motorcycles up and down Jaffa Street, the scene of Sunday’s bombing.
Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces evacuated several buildings in West Bank towns, fearing Israeli retaliation.
Israel again held Palestinian President Yasser Arafat responsible for the attack. Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Arafat is “encouraging terrorism; he’s sending [attackers] to Jerusalem.”
But Palestinian officials blamed Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
“People have lost hope in the future,” West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub told Israel Radio. “The economic and psychological situations are tough, and I think it leads to unusual cases like this.”
More than 30 Palestinian men have carried out suicide attacks in the past 15 months.
U.S. Faces Criticism Over Treatment of Arafat
The latest moves come as the U.S. faces mounting disapproval from its Arab allies over comments critical of Chairman Arafat for the bombings and a recent attempt to smuggle weapons.
Last week President Bush expressed his frustration with the Palestinian leader.
“I am disappointed in Yasser Arafat. He must make a full effort to rout out terror in the Middle East. Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror, that’s enhancing terror. And obviously we’re very disappointed in him,” Bush said.
But reports that the administration is considering options that include sanctions to isolate or punish the embattled Palestinian president have angered Arab leaders.
“All the governments, the people of the region, believe that America is supporting Israel whether it is right or wrong,” Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Nawaf ibn Abdulaziz, told the New York Times in an interview published Monday.
“And now if something happens to Yasser Arafat, the feeling against American policy will be stronger. Anybody will be able to use it to damage American interests in the area,” he said.
Although they have expressed private reservations about Arafat’s leadership, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are publicly disconcerted by President Bush’s acceptance of the Israeli position that Arafat is encouraging violence, and could stop it if he wanted to.
“Yes, Islam is against terrorism, but why is it not said that Israeli terrorism is the fiercest and most heinous terrorism being committed now?” Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef asked in a speech broadcast on state television Monday.
On Sunday, Jordan’s foreign minister said Arab leaders are united in the opinion that it is dangerous for the U.S. to talk “about suspending the peace process or contacts with the Palestinian Authority.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Friday.