Israel Weighs Response to Attack

The attack at a popular billiards hall near Tel Aviv late Tuesday killed at least 15 people and wounded some 60 others.

“He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt him and kill him first,” Sharon said before departing. He said there would be no shelter for terrorists.

The options reportedly being considered include a renewed occupation of West Bank towns and a large military operation in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian extremist group Hamas has a strong presence.

Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied media reports that it carried out the attack, which occurred near 11 p.m. local time in Rishon le Zion, south of Tel Aviv. A Lebanese television station reported Tuesday night that Hamas had claimed responsibility.

In the past, Israel has proposed expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories, an option the U.S. opposes.

The Palestinian Authority was quick to condemn the bombing, saying it caused “great harm to our cause.”

In a statement released in Ramallah, Arafat said he ordered Palestinian security forces to halt any attempt to attack Israeli civilians.

“I have given orders to Palestinian security forces to confront and prevent any terrorist operations against Israeli civilians by any Palestinian party, parallel to confronting any aggression on Palestinian civilians from the Israeli Army and Jewish settlers which we all condemn,” Arafat said.

Sharon was at the White House meeting with President Bush at the time of the bombing, discussing military and political issues related to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Bush expressed his deep condolences and called on Arafat to make every effort to stop terrorism.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the bombing “puts at risk” the Mideast peace process.

A second suicide bomber was foiled Wednesday when his explosives detonated prematurely at a bus stop in northern Israel, critically wounding the bomber, but not injuring anyone else.

Witnesses at the scene of the Rishon le Zion bombing Tuesday night said the bomber carried a suitcase full of nails and explosives and was mistaken for a technician.

The city, 10 miles from Tel Aviv, was the first permanent settlement set up in by Zionist immigrants in 1882. It is now a city of 140,000 residents, many of whom are immigrants.

The attack could affect negotiations aimed at ending the 37-day siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A deal stalled Tuesday when the Italian government objected to the idea of exiling 13 of the Palestinian militants to Italy. Italian officials maintain they were not consulted in the talks.