- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

TEL AVIV In the deadliest terrorist attack to strike an Israeli city in more than half a year, two Palestinian suicide bombers detonated explosives amid crowds of evening commuters near Tel Aviv's central bus station, killing at least 23 as well as themselves. About 110 were injured.
Hours later, Israeli helicopters hit Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip with rockets in retaliation for the attack. Five persons suffered light shrapnel injuries, Reuters news agency reported.
The suicide bombings took place in a neighborhood largely populated by blue-collar foreign workers, many of whom have come to replace Palestinians barred from entering Israel during the present Palestinian uprising.
With the United States gearing up for war against Iraq and international support gathering for the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon isn't expected to opt for a retaliation that would focus undue attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The explosions in Tel Aviv occurred seconds apart around 6:30 p.m. at a distance of about 200 yards, and the booming echoes could be heard for miles over the din of city traffic. The first bomb went off on a pedestrian mall among grocery and clothing stores while the second was detonated at a bus stop across from a cafe bar.
"This has become the routine of our life," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said.
The bombings came just as campaigning for Israel's Jan. 28 election campaign kicked into high gear. Mr. Sharon, whose Likud party is the overwhelming favorite to garner the most votes, built his popularity in the past two years by responding to large-scale attacks like yesterday's with crushing force against Palestinian militants.
The new attacks were expected to solidify Likud's lead over the dovish Labor Party, whose leader, Haifa Mayor Amiram Mitzna, spoke over the weekend of resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians from where they broke off in January 2001.
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the attackers had arrived from Nablus. The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the attack for targeting civilians.
President Bush denounced the bombings.
"I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," the president said in a written statement. "It is a despicable act of murder."
As Mr. Sharon huddled with Cabinet members to consider options for a response, Israeli politicians said Mr. Arafat bore ultimate responsibility for the attack. It was the first large-scale bombing in a month and a half, though Israeli soldiers had foiled a string of attempted attacks in the interim.
"It's clear that despite the break, the Palestinians intend to continue these difficult events," Labor Minister Eli Yishai said. "There had been a long time since the last attack. Maybe the people were less alert."
Police said the coordination of the double attack was reminiscent of a triple bombing a year ago in Jerusalem's Zion Square in which 11 were killed. The pedestrian mall hit yesterday was the scene of a double suicide bombing in July that killed five.
The bombs contained metal parts and screws, which worsened the injuries, police said.
The first bomb exploded on the Neve Sha'anan, where grocery stores, clothing shops, telephone call centers and small pubs serve the tens of thousands of foreign laborers who populate the neighborhood.
"What we see here is that terrorism does not discriminate between Israelis and foreigners, because people that live here are foreign workers," said David Saranga, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The second bomb went off at a bus stop across from a small bar called Azoulay's Meeting Place. Witnesses said a mushroom-shaped fireball rose above the four-story buildings in the area.
"You would think it was a missile, but it wasn't a missile," said Lior Cikishliki, who is employed at a telephone retail store nearby.
The force of the explosion shattered the windows of buildings 50 yards away and blew body parts across the street.
Yakov Azoulay, 59, owner of the cafe bar, said he was serving beer and soft drinks to four patrons at the time of the explosion. Most of the people in the area were on the street, he said.
"My entire cafe is destroyed. The entire bar was broken and drinks were shattered. Everything fell on me," he said. "Afterward, I saw the terrorist across the street without a head, without anything. I'm just happy that I escaped."
The explosion on the pedestrian mall left body parts strewn in the middle of the cobblestone promenade.
Clothing merchandise was also scattered on the mall. Amid the debris, a wooden billboard with Chinese writing advertising calling cards was stained with blood after being used as a stretcher to evacuate victims.
The guest workers hail from such countries as the Philippines and Nigeria.
"We know that we're in danger," said Albert Cainday, who came to Israel five years ago from the Philippines and lives in an apartment facing the mall. "But we're prepared to stay here to earn a living."

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