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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 03:36 GMT
Suicide bombers hit Tel Aviv
Medics helping victim at scene
It was the first suicide attack in Israel for six weeks
Two suicide bombers have blown themselves up and killed at least 23 other people in a double attack in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The explosions - about two minutes apart - ripped through an area crowded with people in the city centre, injuring more than 100, many of them foreign workers.

Half the wall fell on me and I was covered in broken glass

Yitzhak Teva, Tel Aviv barber

Hours after the attack Israeli helicopter gunships raided Gaza City, firing five or six rockets at a large metalworking factory near the city centre. Eight people were reportedly lightly injured.

The Tel Aviv blasts devastated the old bus station area and a busy shopping mall nearby.

Israeli police said the two suicide bombers were carrying as much as 10 kilograms of explosives each, packed with bits of metal.

Bystanders tore off doors to use as makeshift stretchers as the area's narrow streets made it difficult for emergency services to evacuate casualties.

The attack - the first suicide bombing in Israel since November - was claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

It named the two bombers as Buraq Khalifa and Tamir al-Nuri from the northern West Bank city of Nablus - a stronghold of the hardline group.

There were also less specific claims of responsibility from the militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, blamed Yasser Arafat for the bombings, saying he had failed to establish a ceasefire.

Mr Sharon said that only when the terror had stopped would Israel be able to talk peace.

Gaza raid

The Israeli army said the workshop targeted in the Gaza helicopter raid on Sunday was used by several "terrorist" groups for making mortars and other weapons.

It is a despicable act of murder

President Bush on Tel Aviv attack

Palestinian officials denied that weapons were made there.

Witnesses said Israeli tanks also moved into Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, and destroyed the house of a wanted member of Islamic Jihad. Several of his relatives were detained.

Condemnation

In the Tel Aviv attack, said two massive explosions rocked the old bus station area at about 1830 (1630GMT), witnesses said.

First aid for an injured victim
Many victims are believed to be migrant workers

Poor foreign workers - mainly east European, African, Thai and Chinese - predominate in the area.

Yitzhak Teva, a local barber who was cutting hair at the time, said half of the wall fell on him and he was covered in broken glass.

"I shut the shop and then there was the next explosion," he said.

Correspondents say Sunday's attack is similar to one that took place in the area in July, which was also a double suicide bombing.

The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinian Authority had nothing to do with the Tel Aviv attack and condemned the targeting of civilians.

President George Bush said he condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms".

"It is a despicable act of murder, and I express my condolences to the government and people of Israel and especially to the families of the victims," he said.

"All who genuinely seek peace in the region must join in the effort to stop terror."

Army operations

Earlier on Sunday, Israel carried out a test launch of its Arrow missile interceptors as part of its preparations for a potential US-led war in Iraq.

The Israeli army has stepped up military operations in the West Bank and Gaza in the past six weeks, killing around 50 Palestinians and carrying out a relentless wave of house demolitions, incursions and arrests.

Palestinians say this hindered attempts by Egypt and Europe to broker an agreement among the factions to stop attacks in Israel.

Militants had vowed to take revenge for the army raids and said there would be no truce if incursions and assassinations continued.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's James Rodgers reports from Gaza
"The Israeli government made it clear they would fight back"
  Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator
"The Palestinian Authority has nothing to do with these attacks"
  Dore Gold, senior advisor to Ariel Sharon
"The aims of Islamic Jihad and Hamas are to eliminate the state of Israel"

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