- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

NETANYA, Israel A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up and killed three Israelis at a bustling intersection yesterday, 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 bombings have shown that Israel remains vulnerable despite sealing off Palestinian areas in a bid to keep out militants.

Mr. 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," Mr. Sharon said. He did not directly link Arafat loyalists to yesterday's bombing.

The Palestinian attacker detonated the bomb just before 9 a.m. at a corner in the coastal resort town of Netanya. The force hurled his car into the air, shattered shop windows and crumpled street stalls in the central market area. The Israeli dead were an 85-year-old man, his niece and another woman, 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 volunteer Orthodox men picked up pieces of flesh on the bloody street to ensure a proper Jewish burial for the dead Israelis.

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.

Israel has been hit by multiple bombings since the Israel-Palestinian fighting began in September, contributing to a general sense of vulnerability. A taxi van bombing Thursday in northern Israel killed an Israeli man and wounded nine others, 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 Mr. 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 sides.

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

Police said they requested help from the army in foiling attacks. Israel's Channel Two Television reported the police had asked for several hundred soldiers to be deployed either in Israeli cities or along areas that border the West Bank and Gaza.

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

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