- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

JERUSALEM — A female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up in Jerusalem yesterday, killing two Israeli policemen who had stopped her as she approached a crowded bus stop, authorities said. At least 16 persons were wounded.

The bombing occurred two days before the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, the fast of Yom Kippur, and at a time of heightened police presence nationwide. Israel has imposed a closure on the West Bank since last week.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, took responsibility for the attack, the first in Jerusalem since Feb. 22. The group identified the bomber as Zainab Abu Salem, a woman from the Askar refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank. Relatives said she was 19.

The bomber was headed for a crowded bus stop when two paramilitary officers approached her and stopped her, witnesses and emergency officials said.

“The operation of border police officers today in Jerusalem … prevented a very big attack,” Jerusalem police Chief Ilan Franco told reporters at the scene.

The blast destroyed the bus stop, killing the two policemen and scattering shards of glass on the road as the smell of burned rubber wafted in the air. Police said the woman was carrying 7 to 11 pounds of explosives in a bag.

The attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Aug. 31, when two bombers killed 16 persons in the southern city of Beersheba.

“It was a grave attack, something which obliges us to continue fighting terrorism as we have in the past,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Channel One television.

In an interview on Israel Radio hours before the attack, Mr. Sharon hinted that Israel will one day kill Mr. Arafat, the same way it has attacked leaders of the militant group Hamas.

“We acted against Hamas people, and since then more people have been added to this list,” Mr. Sharon said. “When the time is right, we will act the same way with Arafat.”

Mr. Sharon has made similar threats against Mr. Arafat but never acted on them. The United States opposes such an attack.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the bombing, saying the Palestinians oppose all violence aimed at civilians.

Palestinian militants have staged more than 100 suicide bombings inside Israel in four years of fighting. Women have carried out at least eight of the attacks.

In other violence yesterday, a Palestinian militant was killed by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip, and three Palestinian civilians were wounded in clashes with troops in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sharon reversed an earlier decision to speed up his planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the face of considerable opposition, including from within his own party.

Mr. Sharon said it would begin next summer and take about 12 weeks.

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