- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

TEL AVIV A suicide bomber killed himself and two other persons, and wounded scores in front of a seaside pub near the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, police said.

The explosion occurred just hours after the Palestinian parliament approved a new Palestinian reform Cabinet and happened after a pledge by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to rein in militants blamed for previous attacks on Israel.

"It was an attack by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the entrance of a pub called Mike's Place," police commander Yossi Sedbon told Israeli radio.

The police commander said the bomber carried a medium-size bomb packed with nails and other shrapnel.

Rescue workers said there were at least three bodies at the scene, one of them apparently the bomber, and that scores had been taken for treatment.

A filmed scene showed medics treating young Israelis on the sidewalk outside the pub.

"We saw several young men, burned up, coming out of the pub. We were in a nearby nightclub, waiting for a friend at the entrance. And then 10 meters from here, we saw fire coming out of the bar, people all burned up running out," a witness told Israeli radio, according to Reuters news agency.

The blast occurred near the site of the Dolphinarium nightclub bombing in June 2001, which killed 21 persons, mostly young Russian immigrants.

On Thursday, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and a security guard, and injured 13 persons at an Israeli train station. Mr. Abbas condemned the attack.

An armed faction of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for that explosion, which was the first attack in Israel in nearly a month.

Today's blast also appeared to be intended as a direct challenge to the first Palestinian prime minister, coming just a day after the power-sharing deal between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Arafat, which ushered in approval of the Cabinet.

Before the suicide bombing, Mr. Abbas pledged to confiscate illegal weapons and hinted that he's ready to take on Islamic militants.

The 51-18 confirmation vote appeared to pave the way for the United States to reveal the "road map" to peace, an initiative intended to stop the current Palestinian uprising, which began 2½ years ago. It is also intended to restart peace negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.

The Bush administration welcomed the approval of a new Palestinian leadership, saying it would spur a burst of U.S. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

But the White House condemned the bombing, calling it an immediate test for the new prime minister. It said it would nonetheless press forward with a peace proposal by President Bush.

CNN reported. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to release details of the plan later this week during a tour of the Middle East.

"The unauthorized possession of weapons, with its direct threat to the security of the population, is a major concern that will be relentlessly addressed," said Mr. Abbas, nicknamed Abu Mazen, in his first major policy speech several hours before the vote.

"There will be no other decision-making authority except for the Palestinian Authority. There is only one authority, one law."

The militant group Hamas, the biggest rival to the Palestinian Authority, vowed to resist any efforts to take away its weapons.

Hamas leader Abdel Azziz Rantisi pledged to resist disarming until the "complete liberation" of the Palestinian people.

To rein in militants, officials and experts said, Mr. Abbas will have to navigate a precarious path requiring him to balance competing expectations of Israel's security establishment and the Palestinian public.

The delicate process is certain to require strong U.S. involvement both to boost the fledgling Palestinian prime minister and to press Israel into good-faith gestures.

As if to illustrate just how difficult the task will be, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, killing the leader of one Palestinian militant faction.

Unless Israel pares back similar strikes, Palestinians said, Mr. Abbas has little chance of gaining traction as a leader in his own right and reining in militants on his own, said Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Khattib.

"It's the main challenge and the most difficult one," Mr. Khattib said. "If we will simply move by security means against these groups while Israelis are raiding the Palestinian cities, [Abbas] won't be able to be convincing, and he will be resisted by the Palestinian public."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called the confirmation a "good beginning" and said that Israel would withhold judgment on the new prime minister.

Mr. Abbas is a veteran Palestinian politician who brings no military background to the position, which is second to Mr. Arafat.

Analysts said Mr. Abbas will have to quickly begin building up a reputation among Palestinians as a leader in his own right.

Mr. Abbas' stature will undoubtedly receive a boost if Israel orders its army to withdraw from some of the Palestinian towns and cities that it has reoccupied, Palestinian officials said.

But Israel's military is not likely to recommend taking that risk before seeing whether Mr. Abbas has the mettle to push ahead with a crackdown that's sure to expose him to biting criticism among Palestinians, analysts said.

"It's really a sort of a chicken-and-egg thing," said Shmuel Bar, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center.

"For Abu Mazen, its important to have Israeli gestures he can point at for his population. But for Israelis, it's impossible to have a reduction-of-security measure if you have 80 terrorist warnings a day," Mr. Bar said.

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