- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

JERUSALEM A bomber who was released from Palestinian custody just days ago blew himself up in downtown Jerusalem yesterday, killing three Israelis and delivering another setback to U.S. efforts at brokering a truce.
Hours after the attack, Israel canceled a security meeting with Palestinians aimed at negotiating final details of a cease-fire agreement. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's political faction.
The blast, which occurred just after 4 p.m., injured more than 40 persons and turned one of Jerusalem's busiest streets into yet another scene of carnage and destruction. Many of the wounded had nails and screws, which had been packed into the bomb by the attacker, embedded in their bodies.
In the past month alone, scores of Israelis have died in Palestinian bombings and shootings in urban areas, causing many to stay away from shopping centers and cafes.
"I said I wouldn't let the Arabs scare us. I decided to go out despite the attacks," said Sima Avrahami, a middle-aged Jerusalem woman who was lightly wounded in the attack. "I suddenly heard the blast. I can't describe what it was like."
U.S. special envoy Anthony C. Zinni, who arrived a week ago and has shuttled back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hours after the attack but did not speak to reporters.
An Israeli official who was briefed on the meeting said Gen. Zinni was angry at Mr. Arafat for not having done more to prevent yesterday's attack and a bus bombing on Wednesday that killed seven Israelis.
Mr. Sharon convened his security Cabinet late in the evening to discuss an Israeli response. After the bus bombing, Israel refrained from its usual retaliation air strikes on buildings belonging to Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian armed group connected to Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem attack and described it as retaliation for an Israeli offensive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last week that killed at least 170 Palestinians.
Al Aqsa identified the bomber as Mohammed Hashaika, 22, from the West Bank city of Nablus.
Israel's Channel 2 television said intelligence officials knew Hashaika had been planning an attack. Palestinian authorities had arrested him earlier this week at Israel's behest but released him a day later, according to the report.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack, but Mr. Sharon said Mr. Arafat bore direct responsibility.
"Regrettably, though not surprisingly, [Mr. Arafat] hasn't taken any steps to stem the terrorism," Mr. Sharon told reporters.
In Washington, President Bush said he was frustrated by the violence but vowed that the United States would "continue to work the issue and work it hard."
"Mr. Arafat must do everything to stop the violence," he said.
The bombing occurred outside a clothing shop, about half a block from a pizzeria that was targeted twice in the past year.
The blast knocked out several storefronts and damaged the Jerusalem headquarters of the left-wing Meretz party. A banner hanging permanently outside the office, directly above the scene of the attack, said: "Occupation kills we want to live in peace."
Emergency workers spent hours picking up body parts and debris. Two of them climbed to the second-story balcony of a building to scrape human tissue off a metal railing.
Ilanit Ichar, a 26-year-old Jerusalem woman who had been slightly wounded in a previous bombing in the city, was sitting in a nearby hair salon minutes before the attack.
She said she saw a white Ford Escort pull over and let out a man who appeared suspicious.
"He was very agitated. I recognized him as an Arab, and I knew right away that he was a bomber," Miss Ichar said. "I called my boyfriend to tell him there was going to be an attack. Five minutes later, the terrorist blew himself up."
Another witness, dressed in the black garb of an Orthodox Jew, said he was walking away from King George Street when he heard the blast. He turned around and saw glass and body parts flying.
"My first job was at the World Trade Center. When I came to Israel, my family told me I'm in danger here, but I could have died just as easily in the twin towers attack," said the man, who gave his name as Yosef.
"The only place that's safe is where God wants it to be safe," he said.
Gen. Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, failed in two previous missions to arbitrate a truce. A spate of bombings during his first visit to the region last November prompted him to abandon mediation efforts.
An official in his delegation said the envoy is planning to remain here for an extended period this time round.
A detailed truce proposal drawn up by CIA Director George J. Tenet last June serves as Gen. Zinni's blueprint for a cease-fire. It calls for an Israeli withdrawal of troops to positions they occupied before the violence erupted in September 2000 and a Palestinian crackdown on militants.
One of the sticking points is a clause that compels Palestinian authorities to confiscate illegal weapons, which abound in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"It's a difficult road, but nevertheless, we'll continue exerting maximum effort with Gen. Zinni, hoping he'll begin the implementation of Tenet as soon as possible," Palestinian negotiator and Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.


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