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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK
Bomb shatters Israeli calm
Scene at market after bomb blast
The market would normally have been more crowded
A suicide bomber struck in the Israeli resort town of Netanya on Sunday afternoon, killing at least two Israelis and himself in a market and wounding 56 others.

It was a very, very strong blast. We were knocked over by it. We ran straight over to help and there were people lying everywhere, just covered in blood.

Butcher Shimon Genna
The Palestinian Authority quickly moved to condemn the attack, saying it posed a real threat to the dreams of the Palestinian people for their own state.

It was the first suicide attack on Israel in nearly a fortnight but the second on Netanya, which is only nine miles (14 km) from the West Bank, in under two months.

As two militant Palestinian groups both claimed responsibility, US Vice-President Dick Cheney said there were elements among the bombers beyond the control of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israeli sources said a warning about an attack had been received 20 minutes before the bomber set off his explosives but police were powerless to stop him.

The bomber, dressed in an Israeli army uniform, is reported to have pulled up in a taxi before detonating an explosive belt.

"It was a very, very strong blast," said Shimon Genna, a butcher working in the market.

"We were working about 50 metres away and we were knocked over by it. We ran straight over to help and there were people lying everywhere, just covered in blood."

Another witness said the market was relatively empty at the start of the Israeli working week, otherwise the death toll could have been much higher.

Netanya has been a frequent target for Palestinian bombers and a suicide attack on a restaurant there on 27 March, which killed 29 people at a Passover meal, set off a massive Israeli military operation in the West Bank.

Palestinian 'desperation'

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yaffa ben Ari, said the blame for Sunday's attack lay squarely with the Palestinian Authority as it was "doing nothing to prevent terrorist actions".

Israel has indicated it intends to continue with its policy of "pinpoint operations" against suspected Palestinian militants.

The Authority's leadership has issued a collective statement declaring its "full condemnation for the terror attack that targeted Israeli civilians".

Hanan Ashrawi
Ashrawi sees double standards over suicide attacks
But one prominent member of the Palestinian parliament, Hanan Ashrawi, compared the bombing in Netanya to Israeli army attacks.

"On our side, the people who do it are people who are individuals or small groups who are driven to desperation and anger by the Israeli activities, whereas when Israel does it, it does it as a matter of policy," she told the BBC.

"We don't see the same horror as the result of the massive killing of thousands of Palestinians."

She also blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for "escalating the violence".

The attack has been claimed by both Hamas and the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which proclaimed the news on loudspeakers in the West Bank town of Nablus on Sunday night.

It came as the Palestinian Electoral Commission held a key meeting to discuss steps towards holding elections, with Mr Arafat under intense pressure to reform his administration.

Arafat's limits

Washington has reacted guardedly to the Netanya attack, saying that Mr Arafat could not be expected to control every Palestinian militant.

There was "clearly a class of bombings" he could not rein in, said Mr Cheney, but the Palestinian leader had in the past failed to stop other militants he did control:

"There have in the past been bombings by elements of Palestinian organisations that come under his control and there he clearly has the capacity to act."

US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said for her part that Mr Arafat no one had ever asked Mr Arafat "to get 100% results".

"What has been asked of him is 100% effort," she said.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The Israeli security forces had been on high alert"
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Gideon Meir
"It is a sign that the Palestinian terror campaign is continuing"
Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislative Council
"The only way out is to move quickly to an effective peace process"
See also:

17 May 02 | Middle East
Israeli forces sweep through Jenin
11 May 02 | Middle East
Israel rethinks Gaza assault
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Netanya suicide attack
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Netanya bombing
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bush condemns 'callous' killing
21 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
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