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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Sharon anger over suicide bombing
Injured Israelis being taken to hospital
The attack occurred in a crowded social club
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has cut short a visit to the United States after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 people and himself near the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The attack, at a crowded pool club, was the deadliest since Israel launched a massive campaign against Palestinian militants in the West Bank at the end of March.

He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt it and kill him first

Ariel Sharon

Hours after the Israeli leader left Washington, a second Palestinian blew himself up at a junction near the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Israeli police said.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the earlier attack and promised to take "deterrent measures against those involved", but did not say what that might entail.

Suitcase bomb

Police say the bomber blew himself up on Tuesday night after walking into the Spiel club on the third floor of a building in the suburb of Rishon Letzion with a suitcase packed with nails and explosives.

"He had an odd expression. He walked three or four steps inside and detonated his explosives. There was no time to get away," said a police spokesman.

More than 50 people were wounded in the blast, some seriously.

The blast caused a ceiling in the building to collapse on top of people in a banquet hall on an adjoining floor.

Eyewitnesses said there was no security guard at the entrance to the club.

Sharon warning

Speaking to reporters before he left Washington, Mr Sharon blamed the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat for the attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon vowed not to give in to blackmail

The bombing, he said, was "proof of the true intentions of those who lead the Palestinian Authority".

Mr Sharon had been trying to persuade President Bush to sideline Mr Arafat in the search for a political solution to the conflict.

The Israeli leader said he was returning to Israel with a heavy heart, full of rage and vowed to continue the fight against militants.

"Israel will not surrender to blackmail... he who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt it and kill him first," Mr Sharon told reporters following talks with US President George Bush.

Mr Sharon has called an emergency cabinet meeting for when he lands at Ben Gurion Airport to discuss Israel's response.

Reports from the West Bank say Israeli forces have moved into a village near Jericho and rounded up several hundred men.

Bombings denounced

Reacting to the Rishon Letzion attack, the Palestinian Authority said it condemned suicide bombings, describing them, unusually, as "terrorist crimes".

The BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem says the attack has wiped away all the tentative progress in recent days towards restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Bush, who has so far resisted marginalising Mr Arafat, registered "his digust at this wanton taking of innocent life", US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said.

After his talks with Mr Sharon, Mr Bush announced he was sending CIA director George Tenet to the Middle East again, to help build a unified Palestinian security force.

Soldiers 'targeted'

Israel army radio reported on Wednesday morning that the suspected Palestinian attacker was walking along Megiddo Junction, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south east of Haifa, when he blew himself up.

There were no other casualties.

Army radio said he might have intended to target a group of soldiers standing at a bus stop nearby.

Earlier, a caller claiming to be from the Islamic militant group Hamas told French news agency AFP there would be more attacks "this week" in retaliation for Israel's offensive in the Jenin refugee camp.

Lebanon's Al-Manar television said the Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack in Rishon Letzion, but the group has made no official statement.

Bethlehem deal threatened

The attacks came as a deal to end the five-week long siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem suffered a setback.

Negotiators on both sides had indicated 13 wanted militants inside would go to Italy, but the Italian foreign ministry said it had not been informed of the plan.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi twice on Tuesday to try and resolve the impasse.

Under the deal, 26 other Palestinians would be sent to Gaza for trial, while about 80 more would be set free.

Israeli officials have said the suicide attacks could jeopardise the agreement altogether, Reuters news agency reported.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"A suicide bomber detonated nail studded explosives hidden in a bag"
Senior Hamas spokesman Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi
"They should pay the price for their crimes and terror against the Palestinians"
Israeli government spokesman Mark Sofer
"Once again the bestial hand of Palestinian terrorism has struck at the heart of Israel"
See also:

08 May 02 | Middle East
Witnesses speak of bomb horror
07 May 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem snags blight Sharon talks
07 May 02 | Middle East
Italy 'in dark' over Bethlehem deal
07 May 02 | Americas
Sharon steps up diplomacy
08 May 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
08 May 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Israel over Jenin
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