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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 18:13 GMT
Explosion kills three in Tel Aviv
Police officer at blast site in Tel Aviv
Police believe the blast was an attack on a local 'criminal'
Three people have been killed in an apparent gangland bombing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

At least another 18 were injured by the blast at a money-exchange office in a shopping district.

Police believe the blast targeted a leading figure in the Israeli underworld. He and his bodyguards were slightly injured.

After the bombing, Israeli police declared "war against the underworld", where criminal attacks are increasing.

'Underworld' attack

The explosion happened at 1230 (1030 GMT) near the Aroma cafe on Yehuda Halevy street close to Allenby Street, damaging cars along the street and blowing out windows.

"It was a tremendous, tremendous explosion," one witness told Israel Army Radio.

There were initial fears that the explosion was a suicide bomb attack.

But police then said that a local figure from the criminal underworld had been slightly hurt, leading them to suspect he might have been the target.
Man injured in Tel Aviv blast
At least 18 people were injured

The target had entered the exchange office just before blast, eyewitnesses said.

"I saw him, he came to change money. As he went in, it exploded," one person told Israel Radio.

His lawyer confirmed his client had been at the scene.

He was recently released after being questioned by police about allegations that he ordered attacks on business rivals.

Police said that the accusations had proved unfounded.

The man owns several casinos and has been the target of at least four attacks since 1996.

In July, he was slightly wounded by an explosion in the port area of the city.

Violence 'ratcheted up'

"We are declaring war against the underworld - and this will be a war we will win," national police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky said after Thursday's blast.

All police chiefs had been ordered to a meeting late on Thursday on how to tackle the rise in mob violence, a police spokesman told AFP

Several bystanders have been killed in apparent underworld attacks in Israel this year.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The bomb was planted near a money changing shop, visited by a man suspected of being a top crime boss"



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