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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK
Suicide blast rocks Israeli mall
Israeli medics evacuate an Israeli man
Israel wants attacks to stop before implementing the roadmap

A suicide blast has killed at least three people in a shopping mall in the northern Israeli town of Afula.

At least 48 people were wounded in the blast - the second suicide attack against Israelis on Monday and the fifth in three days.

The bomber - a 19-year-old female student from the West Bank - was among the dead.

Two security guards who tried to stop her also died in what witnesses described as a huge explosion.

Two Palestinian militant groups - Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - have said they were behind the attack.

Israel has condemned the attack as "another bloody chapter in the Palestinian history of carnage and terror".

But Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said it would not signal the end of efforts to implement the international peace plan for the Middle East, known as the roadmap.

President George W Bush also said the roadmap still "stands".

Condemning the attack, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel to accept the roadmap.

Seven passengers were killed by a suicide bomber from the militant Palestinian group Hamas on a bus in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Israel sealed its border with the West Bank and Gaza Strip following that attack.

Huge

The attacker, identified as Hiba Daraghmeh, from the West Bank village of Tubas, detonated the explosives as she stepped up to security guards, witnesses said.

"There was a big explosion and my friend and I were blown over backwards," said Etti Pitilon, a border policewoman.

"I saw bodies, but I don't want to think about it," she said.

LATEST SUICIDE BOMBINGS
Saturday, 17 May: Two Israelis killed in Hebron
Sunday, 18 May: Seven bus passengers killed in Jerusalem
Sunday, 18 May: Second Jerusalem attack kills bomber only
Monday, 19 May: Three soldiers hurt in Gaza bombing
Monday, 19 May: At least three people killed in Afula attack

Television pictures showed bloodied casualties lying on the pavement outside the shopping centre, the facade of which had been wrecked by the blast.

Afula, close to the northern border of the West Bank, has seen several similar bombings in the past.

The BBC's Rachel Ellison, who visited Afula, says until recently, everybody in the town - Jews, Christians and Muslims - mixed happily.

Now, she says, the tension is such that some people dare not leave their homes.

She says that in the past two years Afula's Ha'Emek Medical Centre has cared for 700 suicide bomb victims.

'Another bloody chapter'

The Afula attack is the latest in a spate of suicide bombings which have threatened to wreck the US-backed peace plan.

President Bush said the bombers were "sad and pathetic" and vowed that "the roadmap still stands - it is a vision and we will work toward it".

The Israeli defence minister also said it was "too soon to read the last rites of the process".

Israel blames Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - al-Aqsa is an ofshoot of the Fatah movement he leads.

Scene outside Afula shopping centre
Peace overtures are being put under severe strain
Mr Arafat denies the accusations.

"These attacks are not conducive to Palestinian national interests," his Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, said in a statement.

"Nevertheless, Israel should accept the roadmap... [which] would open the way for the Palestinian Authority to maintain the law."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cancelled a trip to Washington to discuss the roadmap with President Bush after the Jerusalem bombing on Sunday.

Mr Sharon says he will not accept the plan as it stands.

He says he wants attacks to stop before considering any Israeli moves.


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The BBC's Richard Galpin
"The shops had been crowded at the time of the attack"



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