Four people died at the scene and another at the hospital after a bomber tried to enter the popular Hasharon mall in the Israeli town of Netanya. Another 30 people were wounded in the bloody blast.
The group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast, the third to strike the same mall in four years.
Imad Abu Diab, a leader of the Islamic Jihad in Tulkarm, told The Jerusalem Post that “the tahdiya (or “calm”) no longer exists and that operations against Israel will continue as long as there is occupation.”
According to police, the bomber was dropped off outside the mall and got in line to try and enter the facility. Security agents noticed the man and immediately moved to detain him.
Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi described a scene in which many more could have died were it not for the efforts of Israeli police.
“Police managed to keep him away from the gate, and he blew himself up when police approached him to conduct a search of his bags,” Karadi told reporters. “Members of the security services were hurt in the event… [but] the actions of the guards and the police prevented a much more deadly bombing.”
But for those who witnessed the attack, the blast was still terrifying.
“There was a boom and there was a flash; seconds later, people were lying on the ground, some wounded and some dead,” Yisrael Klein, told Channel Two television according to Reuters. “The most horrific sight was the severed head of the terrorist.”
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas quickly denounced the attack.
“This operation … against civilians causes the most serious harm to our commitment to the peace process and the Palestinian Authority will not go easy on whoever is found to be responsible for this operation,” a statement quoted him as saying.
The Israeli government was set to convene an emergency meeting in the wake of the bombing and many senior members of the cabinet expressed frustration with the Palestinian efforts to stop the attacks.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called the attack “additional proof of the inaction of the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. Israel can’t stand a continuation of the spilling of blood in the cities and the Kassam attacks.” He added, “The leadership of the Palestinian Authority is refusing to act against the terror organizations and to dismantle them.”
Security officials say commanders are recommending Israel carry out targeted killings of militant leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They’re also suggesting Israel seal off the West Bank and Gaza.
A more formal response was expected after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with his security council on Tuesday.