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Suicide Bomber Had Score to Settle

May 28, 2002

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BALATA REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank (AP) _ Just before blowing himself up near an ice cream parlor in a Tel Aviv suburb, 18-year-old Jihad Titi called his mother in this Palestinian refugee camp to say farewell.

``I realized that he is going to carry out a suicide attack,″ Haleema Titi, 52, told The Associated Press. ``I said, `Oh, son, I hope your operation will succeed.‴ Her husband, Ibrahim, said he wished his son _ who was avenging the killing of a cousin by Israel _ had carried a ``nuclear bomb.″

Jihad Titi’s target on Monday evening was an ice cream parlor and cafe in a shopping mall in Petach Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv. The cafe was crowded with women and children, and several baby strollers were parked near tables.

When Titi detonated the explosives just before 7 p.m. the huge blast sent bodies flying in all directions, killing Ruth Peled, 56, and her 18-month-old granddaughter, Sinai Kenaan. Several dozen bystanders were wounded, including five _ among them a toddler _ who were in serious condition.

``I saw a baby that had half a regular face and half a face that was just blood and flesh,″ said Shai Gat, a 19-year-old soldier who lives in Petach Tikvah and came to assist in the rescue operation.

In Balata, there was strong support for Titi’s attack, the latest in a series of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants. The shantytown is a stronghold of militants and has been frequently targeted by Israeli troops.

Last week, Titi’s cousin, Mahmoud, the local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, was killed in a targeted Israeli attack. At the time, Mahmoud Titi and two friends from Al Aqsa were meeting in the Balata cemetery _ one of the few open spaces available in the camp _ and were hit by Israeli tank and machine gun fire.

One of Jihad Titi’s brothers, 36-year-old Munir, is paralyzed after being hit by shrapnel from a tank shell in Israel’s April 9 incursion into the camp. Munir’s 14-year-old son Salah lost two fingers in the same incident.

Jihad Titi’s mother said her son visited the grave of his cousin, the militia leader, several days ago, and said he would avenge him within a week.

``And he did. Today is the seventh day,″ Haleema Titi said proudly, surrounded by women paying respects. From time to time she kissed a framed photograph of her son. Other women in the crowd said they were proud of Jihad Titi, who has eight surviving brothers and sisters.

Jihad Titi, who finished high school last year and had been looking for work, disappeared from home two days before the attack.

His father, Ibrahim, blamed Israel for the miseries of life in the camp.

Prolonged Israeli security closures, aimed at keeping out militants, have caused massive unemployment and paralyzed daily life in the West Bank. Hardest hit are refugee camps, such as Balata, where residents had few savings to start with, and many are now destitute. The Titi clan lives in a three-story building, but most of the men, who used to work as laborers in Israel, are unemployed.

``I would hope that my son would be a nuclear bomb, not a normal bomb, to destroy everything,″ said the elder Titi. ``If we are not able to live, we don’t want the others (the Israelis) to live. We can either live together or die together.″

In a leaflet faxed to news agencies, the Al Aqsa militia claimed responsibility for Monday’s bombing. The group said attacks on Israelis would continue in order to force an end to Israeli occupation. However, the statement did not carry the seal of Fatah _ a sign of growing internal disputes within the faction over whether to stop suicide attacks, as demanded by the Palestinian Authority.

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