- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

NETANYA, Israel A Palestinian bomber disguised in an Israeli army uniform slipped into a produce market yesterday and blew himself up, killing two Israelis, wounding at least 50 and ending a brief period of relative calm inside Israel.
Hours later, Israeli tanks were seen rolling into part of the West Bank city of Ramallah, site of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office.
An army spokeswoman said a force including armored personnel carriers, but no tanks, entered the city after shots were fired at an Israeli motorist traveling to a nearby West Bank settlement. The driver was unhurt, she added.
The troops withdrew a short time later, without any contact with Palestinians, the spokeswoman said.
The afternoon bombing overturned stalls of apples, tomatoes and cabbages in a narrow aisle at the open-air market in the coastal city of Netanya, and also overshadowed political initiatives under discussion in recent days.
In the hours before the blast, Israeli security forces had been on alert in the Netanya area, targeted 11 times in the past two years, after receiving information that a suicide bomber was preparing an attack.
However, such warnings are virtually everyday events in Israel, and unless the information is highly specific, it is not necessarily enough to prevent attacks by bombers who need only a moment to strike in busy public places.
"There was a warning," said police spokeswoman Shira Lieberman. "Authorities knew there would be an attack in the greater Netanya area."
But the bomber, who died in the explosion, was wearing an olive green Israeli army uniform a common sight on Israeli streets and that may have helped him avoid notice.
"It appears he arrived with someone else who dropped him off at the market," said Officer Lieberman. "He moved through the stalls until he found someplace to blow himself up."
Two Israelis were killed and six of the 50 wounded were in serious condition, Israeli police and rescue workers said.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, armed and masked men paraded through the streets with loudspeakers claiming responsibility for the attack in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The radical group was behind the assassination of Israel's tourism minister last year.
The Palestinian leadership issued a collective statement declaring its "full condemnation for the terror attack that targeted Israeli civilians."
In Washington, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said: "I think there clearly is a class of bombings" that Mr. Arafat can't rein in.
"On the other hand, there have in the past been bombings by elements of Palestinian organizations that come under his control, and there he clearly has the capacity to act," Mr. Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Violence has been down in May compared with the blood-soaked months of March and April, a development that has given rise to a number of political proposals.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres outlined a peace plan that held out the possibility of establishing a state in areas already under Palestinian control. The plan is seen as a long shot and did not win immediate backing from senior leaders on either side.
Meanwhile, Mr. Arafat planned to meet senior Palestinian figures shortly to discuss the prospect of Palestinian elections in coming months.
But the Netanya bombing was a stark reminder of the ever-present threat of renewed violence.
Netanya is on the Mediterranean coast, just nine miles from the West Bank, and has been frequently targeted by Palestinian militants. On March 27, an attack in a Netanya hotel killed 29 persons at the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday, and Israel responded with a sweeping offensive in the West Bank aimed at dismantling the militant groups in the Palestinian autonomous zones.
"Anyone who thought that the Palestinian terror campaign against Israelis is over is completely mistaken," said David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office. "The Palestinian terror campaign continues unabated, as does Israel's battle against terror."
The last deadly bombing in Israel was May 7, when a suicide bomber from the militant group Hamas killed 15 Israelis at a pool hall just south of Tel Aviv.
Israel had threatened to retaliate with an offensive in the Gaza Strip. However, with the United States and other countries urging restraint, Israel decided not to unleash the offensive then, but warned it might do so later.


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