Suicide Bomber Kills Two Israelis
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JENIN, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli troops swept through this West Bank town and an adjacent refugee camp early Tuesday, stepping up raids of Palestinian areas after an Israeli woman and her 18-month-old granddaughter were killed in a Palestinian suicide attack on a suburban ice cream parlor.
Heavy exchanges of fire erupted in the Jenin area, and a Palestinian man was killed by army fire, witnesses said. Troops arrested the local leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas and several other suspected militants in the raid.
Yet despite the raid and a wave of bombings since the end of Israel’s six-week ``Defensive Shield″ military offensive in the West Bank earlier this month, Israel is not on the verge of another massive campaign against Palestinian militias, said Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof.
``We go into specific places according to intelligence information,″ she told Israel Army Radio. ``At this point, we’re not involved in Operation Defensive Shield No. 2.″
In the latest attack by Palestinian militants, a suicide bomber blew himself up near an ice cream parlor in a shopping mall in Petach Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Monday evening. A huge blast sent bodies flying in all directions, killing a 56-year-old woman and her 18-month-old granddaughter. Dozens of bystanders were wounded, including five _ among them another toddler _ 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.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility in a leaflet faxed to news agencies.
``We will not stop our operation as long as the occupation continues in our land,″ said the leaflet which did not carry the Fatah seal _ an indication of growing arguments within Fatah over whether to continue carrying out attacks.
Palestinians identified the assailant as Jihad Titi, 18, from the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus. Titi is a cousin of Mahmoud Titi, the Nablus leader of the Al Aqsa militia who was killed in a targeted Israeli attack last week. Al Aqsa said the bombing was in revenge for the killing of Titi.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing, saying it harmed the interests of the Palestinian people. The bombing ``gives the Israeli occupation army excuses to continue its aggression, killing our people and destroying our national goal,″ the statement read.
The U.N. envoy to the region, Terje Roed-Larsen, said such attacks are ``morally repugnant and a clear violation of international law.″
In Jenin, Israeli tanks entered the town and the adjacent refugee camp, which was the scene of the fiercest fighting during Israel’s previous military offensive. Witnesses reported heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.
A Palestinian man was killed at the entrance to his home, residents said. Soldiers arrested several suspected militants, including the local Hamas leader, Rami Awad, and a man who had planned to carry out a suicide attack in Israel, the army and radio reports said.
Rabin-Pelossof said the action in Jenin was an effort to tie up loose ends from the operation that ended earlier this month.
Suicide bombings have become an almost daily event in Israel, though the military claims it stops most of the bombers before they can strike.
``Have we gotten used to it?″ read the headline of a commentary on the attacks on the cover of the Maariv newspaper Tuesday, next to a picture of an injured 3-month-old baby being carried from the scene of the bombing.
Israeli forces also entered the West Bank town of Hebron early Tuesday and arrested eight Palestinians before withdrawing, Palestinian officials said.
Troops remained in Bethlehem on Tuesday, a day after entering the town and imposing a curfew. The military said that 15 Palestinians had been arrested, including Ahmed Mughrabi, the Fatah leader in the city who the army said oversaw an attack last week that killed two Israelis.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Cabinet said in a statement that presidential and parliamentary elections might be held in December. This was not seen as a firm decision to set an election date, however.
Arafat has been under pressure from his own people, Israel, the United States and Europe to carry out reforms in his corruption-ridden regime and schedule elections, as well as take measures to stop Palestinian attacks in Israel.