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Profile: Two Suicide Attacks Take Place In Israel In The Last Two Days, Killing Three

Morning Edition: May 20, 2002

Mideast Lastest



JACKIE JUDD, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jackie Judd, in for Bob Edwards.

There was another suicide bombing at an intersection in northern Israel early today, but Israeli officials say the bomber was the only fatality. He blew himself up when police approached him and asked for identification. Israel Radio reports that police believe the man intended to board an Israeli bus.

The attempted attack comes the day after a suicide bomber killed three Israelis in the coastal resort of Netanya. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Israeli police said the suicide bomber today failed to kill any Israelis because alert citizens directed police to a man they said was behaving suspiciously. Police said he had been hanging around the intersection, looking for a bus to board. When they asked him to present identification, he detonated his bomb, killing himself, but without injuring anyone else.

Yesterday in Netanya, the bomber was more successful. Despite a stepped-up Israeli alert after intelligence warnings of a planned attack, a suicide bomber dressed in an Israeli army uniform walked into Netanya's open-air fruit and vegetable market and detonated his explosive charge, killing three Israelis and injuring dozens of others.

Israeli media today reported that one of the dead was a cook in the Park Hotel who survived the Passover suicide bombing there almost two months ago. That attack killed 29 people and sparked Israel's six-week assault on the West Bank. Netanya is just nine miles from the West Bank and has been a frequent target of suicide attacks. Mayor Miriam Feierberg says the city has been hit hard over the past year and a half.

Mayor MIRIAM FEIERBERG (Netanya): Of course, it has a bad influence of the city, of the mood of the city and, of course, the families and the people who are wounded and to cope with all of this. And, of course, from an economic point of view, it's also--it's a big damage to the city.

GRADSTEIN: Both the Islamist Hamas and the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli security sources said they believed the PFLP was responsible and blamed its leader, Ahmed Sadat, who is currently being held in a Palestinian jail in Jericho, guarded by American and British wardens. The Palestinian Authority sharply condemned the Netanya attack, saying it damages the Palestinian cause.

The Netanya bombing was the first attack inside Israel since a suicide bomber blew himself up at a pool hall near Tel Aviv two weeks ago, killing 15 people. After that attack, Israel mobilized reserves in preparation for an offensive in the Gaza Strip. But the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed the operation amid heavy international pressure.

Yossi Alfer, an Israeli strategic analyst, says Sharon is under renewed domestic pressure for a military response to the latest terrorist attacks. But at the same time, he says, the international community's focus is on encouraging reforms in the Palestinian Authority, something Sharon also supports.

Mr. YOSSI ALFER (Israeli Strategic Analyst): I would imagine that Sharon's going to feel some pressure from Israel's Arab neighbors who are involved in these pressures on Arafat, as well as on the Americans and perhaps the Europeans, to try to hold off in the hopes that some momentum can be developed which will mitigate against these suicide bombings.

GRADSTEIN: The Bush administration is calling for the Palestinian Authority's rival security forces to be consolidated into a single unit. In a speech last week, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the time has come to reform the Palestinian Authority, adding that he's prepared for new elections. But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says Israel must first pull its troops back to where they were before the current round of fighting began.

Mr. YASSER ABED RABBO (Palestinian Cabinet Minister): There should be a complete withdrawal of the Israeli forces and the return of the Israeli forces to their positions before the 28th of September, the year 2000.

GRADSTEIN: Israel has withdrawn from all Palestinian cities, but maintains a tight cordon around them. Overnight Israeli troops entered the West Bank town of Tulkarem and arrested two Palestinians. Two others were arrested near Hebron. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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