NETANYA,(AP)- A teenage Palestinian suicide bomber killed two Israelis and injured at least 30 others in front of a crowded shopping mall in this seaside city, the first such attack in nearly five months and a blow to a truce that has revived peace hopes.
The mangled body of the young bomber lay in the street, covered with a white plastic sheet, two hours after the blast. Bloodied clothes were strewn on the asphalt, and the body of a woman was sprawled in the street. Israel blamed the militant Islamic Jihad, which has continued its attacks against Israelis despite a truce declared in February, and police linked the bombing to a failed car bomb attack a few minutes earlier in the West Bank.
Among the more than 30 wounded was a 6-year-old girl who was badly burned, Israel TV reported.
Israeli police and Palestinian security identified the bomber as Ahmed Abu Khalil, an 18-year-old member of Islamic Jihad from the West Bank village of Atil, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Netanya.
Police said the two dead Israelis were women. Doron Shafir, one of the first paramedics at the scene, said he saw a woman whose clothes were on fire. "Another, her handbag was burning. We stepped on it to put it out. She was just sitting there. She did not know what was happening to her," he said.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not comment after the bombing. David Baker, an official in Sharon”s office, charged that the Palestinian Authority was not doing enough to rein in militants.
It was unlikely that the truce would collapse, however. Both sides have an interest in not walking away from their agreement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon needs to maintain calm to carry out his Gaza withdrawal this summer, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas” political survival depends on maintaining the cease-fire, seen as key to easing harsh Israeli restrictions in the Palestinian areas.
Abbas used unusually strong language in denouncing the bombing.
"We condemn this terrorist attack. It”s a crime against the Palestinian people," he said. "Those traitors are working against the Palestinian interest. There is no rational man who can do those things on the eve of the Israeli withdrawal from 22 settlements,"
referring to Israel”s planned pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank.
The last bombing, on 25 February 2005, two weeks after the truce was declared, was carried out by Islamic Jihad. However, the group said in a statement after Tuesday”s attack that it remained committed to the cease-fire but reserves the right to retaliate for Israeli violations, such arrests of Islamic Jihad members.
Palestinian security officials said the bomber came from the same local Islamic Jihad cell that was responsible for the 25 February 2005 bombing, but that the Islamic Jihad leadership was not involved.
In response to the bombing, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz canceled a meeting set for later Tuesday to discuss the summer”s Gaza withdrawal with a Palestinian Cabinet minister and a U.S. envoy. Instead, Mofaz convened army commanders.
International Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn charged that the bombing was aimed at Palestinians as well as Israelis.It "diminishes the prospects of the agreements that will ensure the freedom, dignity and hope that they (Palestinians) deserve," he said in a statement.
Minutes before the Netanya blast, an Islamic Jihad militant attempted to drive a car bomb into a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, police said. The bomber was captured after the explosives detonated prematurely, police said, adding that the two attacks were linked.
Channel 10 TV showed footage of the small white van, flames leaping from its roof, across from a kindergarten in the settlement, Shavei Shomron.
The Netanya mall has been a target for suicide bombers in the past. On May 18, 2001, a bomber blew himself up at the mall, killing five Israelis. In the deadliest Palestinian bombing in the past four years of fighting, an Islamic militant blew himself up in a Netanya hotel during a Passover seder, killing 29 people.
Israeli security officials say a partially completed barrier along the West Bank has stopped many attempted bombings. Netanya is at Israel”s narrowest point, where the West Bank is just 15 kilometers(9 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea.
In a meeting that ended just before the suicide bombing, Israel”s Security Cabinet decided to cancel the military government imposed on Gaza after it was captured in 1967 when Israel pulls out of the territory next month, according to a participant in the closed meeting.
The decision was made in connection with a discussion over whether Israel would continue to be legally responsible for Gaza after the pullout. Israel contends that its responsibility will end with its withdrawal, but Palestinians and the United Nations dispute that, noting Israel would still control crossing points, air space and the seacoast.
Also on the agenda was the issue of whether the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt could be moved to an area that abuts Israel.
No decision was made.
Israel is negotiating with Egypt on the issues of running the terminal and deploying forces on the border. Earlier, Sharon said there would be no further unilateral withdrawals after the summer pullout, responding to hardline critics who say the pullback is the start of an Israeli retreat from all of the West Bank. The plan "does
not have a second stage," he said.