- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

[3:09 p.m.]

TEL AVIV — A Palestinian suicide bomber set off an explosion at a sidewalk falafel stand near Tel Aviv’s central bus station today, killing the bomber and at least eight bystanders in an attack that will test an already rocky relationship between the newly elected Israeli and Palestinian administrations.

The explosion occurred shortly before 2 p.m. outside of Mayor’s Shwarma and Falafel restaurant, injuring about 65 and ripping through a crowd of lunchtime diners on a day many Israelis took off to celebrate the weeklong holiday of Passover.

The Middle Eastern greasy spoon was bombed just three months ago but there were no fatalities on that occasion.

The attack catches Israel’s government at end of a months-long transition period as Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert haggles with potential coalition partners to fill his Cabinet posts. “We will know what to do,” Mr. Olmert told reporters.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack — the deadliest since Israel and the Palestinian Authority declared a truce 14 months ago — and released a videotape of the bomber, reportedly a teenager from a village near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. The Iranian-funded militia has carried out eight of the nine bombings against Israeli targets since February 2005.

The bomber triggered a 12-pound bomb laden with scrap metal after being stopped by a security guard at the entrance to the sandwich bar. One witness said the sidewalk tables were full of patrons.

The attack highlighted the rift in the Palestinian government, as President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the bombing while a spokesperson for Hamas described the explosion as an act of self-defense in an interview with an Arab satellite television channel.

Israeli/Palestinian fighting around Gaza intensified last week as the sides traded artillery shells and homemade rockets. Although Hamas has observed the cease-fire, the Islamic militants have said they won’t prevent other groups from staging attacks.

The strike will force Israel to decide whether it will step-up its retaliation now that the Palestinian Authority is under the control of a government which openly supports the militant uprising.

“We’ve never encountered this situation before. Everyone, including the U.S., is playing this by ear,” said Yossi Alpher, an analyst from Tel Aviv University. “The whole doctrine of how you deal with a [militant Muslim] organization when it is elected democratically is an evolving one.”

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