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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Israel hit by double suicide attack
Rescue teams at the scene
The blast in Haifa destroyed the restaurant
A suicide bomb attack has killed 15 people in a crowded restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Up to 30 people were injured - several of them critically - in the explosion. The bomber was also killed. It was the fourth such attack since the start of the current Jewish Passover holiday.


Watching people on fire is just horrible

Haifa witness
Less than two hours later, another suicide bomber atacked an office for paramedics in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, south of the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

At least four people were reported to be wounded, one critically. The bomber was killed.

An Israeli police commander at the scene in Haifa said it had been a suicide bomb attack.

The blast coincided with an intensification of the Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat inside his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

Israel has now declared Ramallah a closed military area and has ordered all journalists to leave.

As the conflict reached a new intensity, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to broadcast a state address on Sunday at 2030 (1730GMT).

Two Palestinian militant groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - claimed responsibility for the Haifa blast.

A witness, Shimon Sabag, told Israel Radio: "Watching people on fire is just horrible. I heard an explosion, I went into the gas station and I started to deal with the injured people.

"I couldn't deal with the critical injuries so I turned to the moderate. I tried to put out the fire. Even the moderate injured were on fire."

Another witness said the blast had blown a hole in the ceiling of the restaurant, which was close to a petrol station.

Wave of bombings

On Saturday, a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant injured 30 Israelis.

Yasser Arafat in his compound
Yasser Arafat is just metres away from Israeli troops
Another suicide attack on a crowded Jerusalem supermarket on Friday killed two people and wounded at least 20.

Last Wednesday, at the start of the Passover festival, a suicide bombing in the Israeli resort of Netanya killed 19 people and injured about 100.

US President George W Bush has condemned the Haifa attack.

David Baker, an official in Mr Sharon's office, said Palestinian suicide bombers had "made terror attacks a daily event".

"Israel will fight relentlessly. We will leave no stone unturned until we stop this campaign of terror directed against us," he told Reuters.


I have one choice: to be one of the Palestinian martyrs

Yasser Arafat
Israeli troops fought a fierce gun battle with Mr Arafat's bodyguards in rooms adjacent to his office in Ramallah on Sunday.

A number of Mr Arafat's bodyguards are reported to have been wounded.

Israeli troops are reported to have entered the Ramallah governor's office next to Mr Arafat's office.

The Israeli army accused Mr Arafat's bodyguards of having opened fire from the dining room on the ground floor, then from one of Mr Arafat's rooms.

But a Palestinian official said Israeli soldiers had broken down the dining room door, triggering the gun battle.

Arafat defiant

Despite the fighting, a group of about 40 Western pacifists succeeded in entering Mr Arafat's besieged office on Sunday, defying Israeli tanks and warning shots.

The Italian news agency, ANSA, said the French and Italian pacifists were accompanied by several Palestinian doctors and were carrying food and medical supplies.

One of the activists told the AFP news agency that they intended to stay inside the offices to protect Mr Arafat from Israeli troops.

UN resolution
Calls for Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah and other West Bank cities
Calls for immediate moves towards ceasefire
Approved by 14 votes to 0
Proposed by Norway
Vote backed by US, boycotted by Syria
The compound is surrounded by tanks and most of its buildings have been taken over by Israeli troops.

Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador to its foreign ministry on Sunday to protest strongly over the Israeli assault.

The Palestinian leader earlier issued a defiant statement, telling the American Fox television network that he would never surrender.

"They (the Israelis) have declared it many times: 'We want Arafat dead or a prisoner, or to kick him outside of Palestine.' And I have told them I have one choice: to be one of the Palestinian martyrs." Mr Arafat said in a telephone interview.

Elsewhere in Ramallah, the Palestinians reported mass arrests, as the Israelis used loudspeakers to summon all males between 16 and 50 for questioning.

The European Union has demanded the immediate implementation of a United Nations resolution urging Israel to withdraw from all West Bank cities and calling on both sides to move immediately towards a ceasefire.

Israel has criticised the resolution, saying it will not pull out of Ramallah.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Holding Arafat prisoner is no longer enough for some in Israel"
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator
"President Arafat is in real danger"
Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister
"The attacks on civilians...left our government with no choice"
See also:

31 Mar 02 | Middle East
Jordan warns Israel over crackdown
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Deadly suicide bomb hits Israeli hotel
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
US backs UN on Mid-East crisis
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Ramallah takeover
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs offer Israelis peace plan
21 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
31 Mar 02 | Media reports
Arab press rails at Sharon
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