- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

TEL AVIV (AP) — A blast blamed on Israel’s criminal underworld killed three persons yesterday in downtown Tel Aviv, frightening residents already edgy from three years of Palestinian suicide bombings.

The scene resembled the aftermath of dozens of Palestinian attacks: a gutted storefront — wires and pipes hanging from its ceiling — swarming police and bloodied bodies lying in the street. At least 17 persons were wounded, including the apparent target.

“It was so big, I don’t believe that it was a criminal act,” said Avraham Rahamim, 61, sitting at a taxi stand across the five-lane street from the scene of the blast, aimed at a money changer’s shop.

Since violence erupted in 2000, more than 400 Israelis have been killed in 105 Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. Several of the deadliest have been in Tel Aviv.

It quickly became clear that the blast was not a terror attack. Israel Radio interviewed a woman slightly wounded in the bombing who said that before the blast, another Israeli urged her to get away. She said she asked why and was told, “You don’t want to know.”

The target was Zeev Rosenstein, a well-known underworld figure. It was the seventh time in as many years that rivals have tried to kill him, according to Channel 2 TV. Mr. Rosenstein was spotted leaving the scene and appeared at an area hospital later for treatment of minor injuries.

Reacting to the bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the next meeting of his Cabinet, on Sunday, would be devoted to dealing with organized crime in Israel, reflecting the seriousness of the problem.

Channel 2 TV reported that the underworld rivalry stretches far beyond Israel, encompassing illegal gambling interests in Eastern Europe.

Israeli authorities expressed concern about the escalation in tactics. The Israeli gangsters “are definitely learning from the Palestinians,” said Tel Aviv District Commander Yossi Sedbon, turning from shootings to bombings.

In the past, criminals have planted bombs under each other’s cars, but this was the first time a bomb was set off on a busy street, targeting a shop where an underworld leader was present and sure to cause casualties among bystanders.

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