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Bomb in Israeli coastal city kills four: 50 injured

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March 5, 2001 


NETANYA-(AP) - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up and killed three Israelis at a bustling intersection Sunday, the second lethal explosion in four days as militant Islamic groups vowed more attacks against Israel's incoming government.

With Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon preparing to assume power, possibly this week, the pair of bombings has shown that Israel remains vulnerable despite sealing off Palestinian areas in a bid to keep out militants.

Sharon, a former general who says he will restore security to Israel after five months of fighting, said "the terror attack is a very serious one that shows that the Palestinian Authority is not taking the necessary steps" to halt violence.

"We know very well that the most loyal forces of (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat are involved in attacks," Sharon said. However, he did not directly link Arafat loyalists to Sunday's bombing.

The unidentified Palestinian attacker detonated the bomb just before 9 a.m. at a busy street corner in the coastal resort town of Netanya. The force hurled a car into the air, shattered shop windows and crumpled street stalls in the city's central market area. The Israeli dead included an 85-year-old man and two women, Israeli officials said.

"It was horrible, just horrible," said William Weiss, a municipal worker. "There were hands, legs, flesh, and a head thrown around. It turned out that was apparently the terrorist's head."

Police scoured the streets for evidence, while a team of volunteer Jewish Orthodox men picked up pieces of flesh on the bloodied street to ensure a proper Jewish burial for the dead Israelis.

Israel has been hit by multiple bombings since the Israel-Palestinian fighting began in September, contributing to a general sense of vulnerability. Sunday's attack came on the heels of a taxi van bombing Thursday in northern Israel that killed an Israeli man and wounded nine people, including the bomber.

No one claimed responsibility for the latest blast, but the two leading Islamic militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both have said they would carry out attacks to undermine Sharon's government.

"Resistance will continue until we push the occupiers out of our land," said Mahmoud Zahar, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has sought to prevent Palestinian militants from entering Israel by imposing a blanket closure on all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The measure has strangled the Palestinian economy, kept 120,000 Palestinians from commuting daily to their jobs in Israel, and heightened tensions between the two sides.

The closure has not halted Palestinian attacks, but Israel says that opening the borders would make it even easier for Palestinians to slip into Israel.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who has been named defense minister in Sharon's government, said he would attempt to develop a plan to "rout terrorism." He said he would also seek to reduce "to a minimum the collective punitive measures against the Palestinian population," a reference to the closure.

Sunday is a work day in Israel, and the Netanya street corner was crowded with people during the morning rush hour. About 50 people were injured, a figure that apparently included people suffering from shock, according to Israeli officials.

After the bombing, Israeli Jews badly beat a Palestinian man near the scene, and he was taken to the hospital with serious head wounds, police said, adding that one Israeli was arrested.

In a separate development, a Palestinian man was seriously wounded when he was shot in the abdomen in the central Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.

The violence that erupted last September has left Israelis badly shaken and contributed to the collapse of outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government and the breakdown of peace talks.

"I think we need to sit and talk and make peace," said Weiss, the municipal worker who witnessed the bombing. "I hope Sharon will get to the negotiating table and that he and Arafat will settle this because this is too painful and it has to stop."

Sharon, however, has said he will not reopen peace talks until the violence ends. And he has opposed Barak's peace offer to the Palestinians - a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza and a share of Jerusalem - as too generous. The Palestinians rejected the offers as not going far enough.

Overall, 422 people have been killed since the fighting began.

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