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Blast Kills At Least 10 In Tel Aviv

March 4, 1996

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ A suicide bomber blew himself up today next to a line of people waiting at a cash machine outside a downtown Tel Aviv shopping center. At least nine other people died and about 70 were wounded, nine critically.

The bombing outside the Dizengoff Center shopping mall was the fourth terror attack in Israel in nine days. Given the outrage in Israel over the violence, Prime Minister Shimon Peres will be under intense pressure to break off peace talks with the Palestinians.

Children in costumes for the Purim holiday, which starts tonight, were among the victims. ``I saw children here in costumes bleeding profusely. It’s a heart-rending sight,″ said Yigal Raviv, a reporter for Israel radio.

Other witnesses said they saw dead children.

``I see bodies, parts spread around. It’s terrible, terrible,″ witness Yoel Hason said.

The blast came a day after a suicide bomber killed himself and 18 other people aboard a bus in Jerusalem. Sunday’s attack in Jerusalem was the third fatal suicide bombing in Israel in eight days. A total of 44 people, plus three suicide bombers, died in those attacks, claimed by the Islamic militant Hamas group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for today’s attack. Hamas said the previous attacks were intended to avenge the Jan. 5 assassination of the group’s chief bombmaker, Yehiya Ayyash, in an operation widely attributed to Israel.

The bombing war in the past week threatens to deal a death blow to Mideast peacemaking, and led Peres to declare war on Hamas and suspend peace talks with Syria. He called his Cabinet into emergency session today.

Coming in quick succession and targeting Israel’s two major cities, the attacks have severely shaken the confidence of Israelis and severely strained Israel’s ability to continue peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Today’s explosion occurred at the shopping center at the height of afternoon shopping, at 4:10 p.m. The cash machine is at the intersection of King George and Dizengoff streets _ one of the busiest in the city.

Rescue workers lined up the dead at the curbside, covering them with brown and gray blankets. Rescue workers treated the wounded who were sprawled on the street amid the rubble of glass, torn paper and cardboard boxes.

Dazed survivors hurt by the explosion sat on the curb. clutching their heads. One man wiped blood off his face with a jacket. Policemen leaned over people lying on the ground, apparently unconscious.

Israel army radio said 12 people were killed and 68 were hospitalized, nine of them in critical condition.

There were conflicting reports about whether the bomber was on foot or sitting in a car when he set off the blast.

One woman said the assailant sat in a white car and detonated the bomb next to a line of people waiting at a sidewalk bank cash machine.

``I saw the car explode,″ a woman told Israel army radio. ``There were 10 people standing in line to take money. About seven flew in the air.″

Other reports said the man crossed the street on foot and then blew himself to bits outside the bank.

Emotions ran high after the bombing. Angry onlookers shouted ``Death to Palestine″ and ``Death to the Arabs,″ as they tried to surge through police barriers.

Cars, their hoods in the air, smoldered from the blast which scattered debris and glass on the street. A shoe lay in the road as emergency workers carried the dead, covered with gray blanket, away on stretchers.

``Please don’t come in, move back, move back,″ police shouted through loudspeakers in an effort to keep the crowd back. Israel radio reported that among the dead was a Palestinian with a backpack, and there was concern a second, unexploded bomb was on his body.

The blast came as Tel Aviv prepared for joyous celebrations of Purim, the Jewish festival that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from a plot to slaughter them. The story of Purim is told in the biblical Book of Esther. Jewish children traditionally dress up in costumes for the holiday, which celebrates God’s protection of the Jewish people.

The last previous attack in Tel Aviv took place July 24, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a bus, killing six Israelis and wounding 28.

Today’s blast took place just hours after Israeli troops herded hundreds of Palestinians into a school yard of a West Bank refugee camp and arrested at least 30 wanted men in response to the earlier bombings.

In Jerusalem, where 19 people died in a bus bombing on Sunday, security on buses was tightened today. About 1,000 soldiers were stationed at bus stops to monitor passengers boarding buses. An extra 1,200 police officers patrolled Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Peres vowed he would not rest until Hamas was destroyed.

``We see these days as a time of war,″ he said grimly, pledging $100 million to the campaign to halt infiltration and attacks. Israel is ``engaged in total war against Hamas and other terrorist organizations,″ he said.

Israel’s army also decided to set up a mile-wide security belt between the West Bank and Israel to prevent infiltrations by Palestinian suicide bombers, Israel radio reported.

Peres resisted earlier calls to separate Israelis and Palestinians, but with a bombing war in progress and elections just three months away, he is under extreme pressure to act forcefully to restore Israelis’ sense of security.

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