Four killed in Tel Aviv cafe blast; Hamas claims responsibility
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ A suicide bomber blew himself up today in a street cafe crowded with people dressed in costumes celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim. Police said three Israeli women were also killed and 46 people were wounded.
The Muslim militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the nail-studded bomb. Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority condemned the explosion, the first after a yearlong lull in suicide bomb attacks.
Israel responded by barring Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested he might suspend peace talks saying ``we are not prepared to go on this way.″
Among the injured was a 6-month-old girl in a red-and-blue clown costume. Her head was matted with blood as she was carried away screaming by a policewoman. She was in stable condition with leg wounds later in an Israeli hospital.
Two women died in the explosion and a third died hours later in a hospital.
``There was a powerful boom, glass flying everywhere and there was a lot of blood,″ said the cafe’s shift manager, who gave his name as Roi. He sobbed hysterically, sitting on the sidewalk holding his head.
The blackened body of the bomber lay on the cafe patio for hours, partially covered by a blanket. Israel TV said the bomber’s ID card listed him as a 28-year-old resident of the West Bank village of Zurif, near Hebron.
The blast scattered chairs, tables and umbrellas on a tree-lined boulevard just yards away from City Hall. Smoke rose from the charred wood and cloth umbrellas, and napkins and half-eaten plates of food were strewn about.
Israel and the Palestinians blamed each other for the violence.
``Jerusalem will not be restored by negotiations, but only with holy war, whatever the sacrifices,″ a Hamas leader, Ibrahim Maqadmeh, told a cheering crowd of 50,000 today in Khan Yunis on the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians have been furious with Netanyahu for his decision to break ground Tuesday for a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to set up a future capital. ``The terror of bulldozers led to the terror of explosives,″ said Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Arafat.
Netanyahu blamed Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader had done nothing to correct an assumption by Islamic militants that they had a ``green light″ to carry out attacks.
Asked today whether his decision to build the Jewish neighborhood might have contributed to the violence, Netanyahu said angrily: ``I find that line of questioning obnoxious and immoral.″
The bombing was preceded by two days of riots in the West Bank.
Heavy clashes erupted today in Hebron and at the Jerusalem construction site. Israeli troops fired tear gas, rubber bullets and at one point live ammunition to keep a crowd of Palestinians away. More than 30 Palestinians were treated for tear gas inhalation. An Israeli soldier was hit by a firebomb, and his uniform caught fire.
The army imposed a curfew on Zurif, said to be the bomber’s hometown. Dozens of Palestinians hurled stones at four Israeli jeeps driving into the village.
Netanyahu warned that Israel would not be frightened by terror.
``Whoever thinks that those who kill children will frighten us doesn’t know us,″ Netanyahu said. ``We will deal with these murderers, each and every one of them.″
Arafat called Israeli President Ezer Weizman to express his condolences and his Cabinet secretary, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, condemned the bombing.
A waiter at the Apropo Coffee House on Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Boulevard said a man walked into the patio just before today’s explosion carrying two bags.
``He looked strange,″ the waiter, Gad Ben-Tzur, told The Associated Press. ``I was trying to pick up an order. A second later, there was a tremendous flash and he blew up.″
A witness said 20 or 30 people were nearby when the explosion took place at 1:45 p.m.
Two preschoolers, one dressed as a clown and the other as a cowboy for Purim, ran away from the scene in shock. The holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from a plot to slaughter them.
Police helicopters circled above and police dogs searched neighboring buildings for other possible bombs. Wounded people were treated on the sidewalk.
During last year’s Purim holiday, a suicide bomb at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center shopping mall killed 13 Israelis, many of them children. Mayor Roni Milo said he had hoped this ``Purim would go by without another tragedy.″
Last spring, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings. Today, an Islamic Jihad spokesman praised the Hamas bombing in Tel Aviv.
``We give our blessing to this heroic action,″ he said in Damascus, Syria, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
In the West Bank town of Nablus, a Hamas leader told 10,000 supporters during a rally this afternoon: ``I have good news for you. There is a suicide operation in Tel Aviv.″
The crowd clapped and responded with shouts of ``Allahu Akbar,″ _ or ``God is great.″
``This is the only language the occupiers understand, the language of martyrdom,″ said the Hamas leader, Hamed Bitawi.