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At least 17 dead, 86 hurt in beachfront bombing

At least 17 dead, 86 hurt in beachfront bombing

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The Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — An explosion late Friday on a crowded beachfront in Tel Aviv killed 17 people, including a suicide bomber who had mingled with young people outside a dance hall, police said. At least 86 people were wounded.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called it one of the most inhuman attacks in Israel’s history. President Bush demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemn the violence.

“The terrorist exploded outside the entrance to the disco when there were people around him,” said David Klausner, deputy head of Tel Aviv police.

The blast occurred about 11 p.m. at the entrance to a nightclub named Pacha that faced a promenade area lined with restaurants, bars and hotels. The promenade was packed with Israelis, many of them young, enjoying the start of their Sabbath weekend.

Witnesses told Israel Radio that the bomber had stood with a group of young people waiting to get in. “I was about to enter (the disco), suddenly I looked in the direction of the blast, I saw people thrown backward,” said Dudi Nachum, 21.

About a dozen cars parked in front of the club were heavily damaged, their windows shattered and pieces of flesh and blood splattered on them.

Police said 17 people were killed. Police Chief Shlomo Aronishky told Israeli TV that “a number of suspects have been arrested.” He didn’t elaborate. After the blast, police closed bars and nightclubs in the area.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but in recent months of Israeli and Palestinian fighting, Islamic militants have detonated more than a dozen bombs. Friday’s blast was the worst in the current uprising.

The militant group Hamas has said it would carry out at least 10 suicide bombings and so far has claimed responsibility for eight.

A spokesman for Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, stressed that he had no confirmation that Hamas was behind the attack. But he said: “This kind of operation is the right of the Palestinian people to terrorize the enemies.”

The militant group Islamic Jihad also said it had no confirmation on who was responsible, spokesman Abdul Hakim Salim said.

Israel security forces have been on high alert for attacks but have been unable to block the border with the West Bank to prevent infiltration. Early Saturday, the army announced a tightened closure on the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who proclaimed a cease-fire last week that was dismissed as a ploy by the Palestinians, was convening a Cabinet meeting Saturday to assess the situation, said adviser Raanan Gissin.

“We intend to keep the cease-fire as long as it’s possible,” Gissin said at the scene. But he added: “We’ll choose the proper time and place. We’ll take the proper action.”

Bush also demanded that Yasser call for an immediate cease-fire.

“There is no justification for senseless attacks against innocent civilians,” Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

Eliezer, the defense minister, called the blast “one of the most cruel and inhuman terror attacks that we have witnessed in Israel,” spokesman Yarden Vatikay said.

“And it is done at the time where Israel is doing its utmost efforts for stopping the violence and ceasing fire, and it looks to us like (Yasser) Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are leading the area, the region into turmoil,” he said.

Palestinian Parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinian Authority was against the killing of civilians on both sides of the conflict.

But, he said, “there is no way to put an end to this cycle of violence as long as the Israeli government is not responding to the international community’s calls or invitation to put an end to the aggression which it is practicing against the Palestinian people.”

Since fighting erupted last September, 483 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 88 on the Israeli side, including 24 settlers. With Friday’s reported toll, the number of slain Palestinians would rise to 484 and Israelis to 104.

The blast capped a week after the United States restarted efforts to bring the two sides together again.

Israeli and Palestinian security chief held two rounds of talks and U.S. diplomats met with Israeli officials to discuss implementation of a report by an international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. The report recommended a staged process of an end to violence, confidence-building measures and a return to negotiations.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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