- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

TEL AVIV A Palestinian bomber blew himself up in a crowded commuter bus in central Tel Aviv yesterday, also killing five others and wounding more than 60.

The attack prompted Israel to dispatch tanks and armored personnel carriers to the West Bank headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet to discuss the next move.

Israeli troops killed two Palestinians during military incursions into the Gaza Strip overnight, Palestinian hospital sources said today.

The victims were Ahmed Loubad, 35, and Samira Doukhdar, 25. Both were killed by Israeli fire in Tufah, in the north of Gaza, the sources said.

The bomb explosion, which ended a six-week respite in major terrorist attacks in Israeli cities, occurred shortly before 1 p.m. on Allenby Street, a busy shopping thoroughfare that bisects the city's financial district.

The blast occurred in the front of the bus as it slowed down to pick up and let off passengers. Witnesses said the bus rolled about 20 yards before coming to a stop outside of a bank and just beyond Tel Aviv's Great Synagogue. The burned body of the driver slumped over the dashboard as screaming passengers jumped from the windows.

A woman who left the bus several stops earlier claimed to have identified the bomber, who aroused her suspicion because he wore a sport jacket despite the hot midday weather.

The attack left Allenby Street littered with shards of glass from the bus windows. The force of the blast sprayed pieces of charred flesh onto the used books of a nearby store whose display window was shattered.

Karmit Ovadia had been on the bus for two stops and was about to leave through the rear exit when the explosion ripped through the vehicle, hurling passengers into the air and filling the air with dust and smoke.

"I didn't even believe it was a bombing attack until I saw the entire bus in black," she said at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital where she was taken to be treated for minor injuries. "The people inside the bus caught me and wouldn't let me out of the bus. I said, 'I want to get out, I want to stay alive.' I finally escaped through the window."

On Wednesday, two Israelis were killed in attacks on the West Bank, and an Israeli policeman died in an explosion triggered by a Palestinian suicide bomber outside the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm.

In response, Israel targeted Mr. Arafat even though the Islamic militant group Hamas took responsibility for the attack. By evening, Israeli forces posted in the West Bank city of Ramallah had taken up positions near the destroyed buildings outside Mr. Arafat's offices, a Palestinian spokesman said. Two of Mr. Arafat's bodyguards were injured in clashes that broke out after the deployment.

At the Cabinet meeting, Mr. Sharon resisted calls to expel Mr. Arafat, saying such a measure would cause Israel political damage, Israel Radio and TV reported.

The radio said the Cabinet decided to isolate Mr. Arafat in his office and demand the surrender of wanted Palestinians inside. Last spring, Israeli tanks confined Mr. Arafat to his office for nearly six weeks.

The Israeli army also reimposed curfews in five West Bank cities it has reoccupied since late June.

Just last week, Mr. Arafat condemned attacks against Israeli civilians, complaining they gave Israel an excuse to step up its stranglehold of Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank. At the same time, leaders of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement have been debating a call for a total halt to attacks inside Israel. But Palestinian Authority officials yesterday blamed the Israeli government for the latest killings.

"The violence is escalating [because of] Sharon's policies to use force to achieve peace and security," said Ghassan Khattib, who resigned as Palestinian labor minister last week. "Over the last month, the Israelis killed 75 Palestinians. Two-thirds of them were civilians, including some children."

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