- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

TEL AVIV — An explosion triggered by a Palestinian suicide bomber struck a bustling outdoor market in central Tel Aviv yesterday morning, leaving four dead — three Israelis and the bomber — and 32 injured.

The attack worsened fears of instability and increased violence that have followed news of the mysterious illness of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who condemned the bombing from his hospital bed in Paris.

The explosion occurred at about 11:15 a.m. at the entrance to Shamai Cheeses, a popular shop in the Carmel Market, an open-air strip of fruit and vegetable stalls, butchers and discount apparel retailers.

The blast overturned produce counters, splattered blood on storefronts across the narrow walkway and shattered the glass sign of a nearby stall selling fresh Middle Eastern salads.

“I was cutting a schnitzel, and then lifted my head and saw the explosion,” said Avi Chayo, a 28 year-old butcher who described seeing a fireball. “Everything was filled with smoke. And there was one person with a leg nearly severed.”

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack, the first suicide bombing in central Tel Aviv in nearly a year and a half. The bomber was identified as 16-year-old Amar al Faer, from a refugee camp near Nablus.

Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said he had received a cell-phone call from Paris in which Mr. Arafat’s wife, Suha, relayed a statement from Mr. Arafat appealing to all Palestinian factions “to commit to avoid harming all Israeli civilians,” the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Arafat took the phone from his wife and asked Mr. Abu Rdeneh to make sure the statement was circulated, the spokesman said. Mr. Arafat also urged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “to take similar initiatives to avoid harming Palestinian civilians,” he said.

Mr. Sharon, however, said Israel would not ease up in its war on terrorists.

“The attack proves that nothing has changed in the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “Until serious steps are taken to wipe out terror … Israel will continue with its policy.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia also condemned the bombing, expressing confidence that Israel would not rescind a promise to allow Mr. Arafat to return to Ramallah.

Mr. Arafat’s hospitalization last week spurred speculation about the fallout of his absence on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Just Sunday, the chief of Israel’s military intelligence suggested his departure could bring an end to four years of daily violence.

Analysts doubted yesterday that militants could have timed the attack to coincide with Mr. Arafat’s absence, saying such bombings take weeks to plan and carry out.

Over the last decade, Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda open-air market has been attacked several times, but the Tel Aviv counterpart has remained untouched.

The Tel Aviv market is a melting pot of Israeli society, drawing shoppers from Israel’s blue-collar and upper-middle classes, as well as migrant workers. Israeli Arabs own produce stands, while dozens of Palestinians without Israeli work permits earn money there covertly.

“There’s nothing like this market. The people who work here are genuine,” said Ronen Gil, a 37-year old butcher. “I saw an Arab evacuating the wounded. You can’t tell who’s Arab and who’s Jewish here.”

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