Greg Myre and Dina Kraft, New York Times
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Tel Aviv — A Palestinian suicide bomber carried out the deadliest attack on Israel in almost two years on Monday when he detonated his bag of explosives at a falafel restaurant — an act that Hamas, which leads the new Palestinian government, called legitimate.
The bomber and nine others were killed and dozens wounded in the blast, in the same small restaurant that had been hit by a suicide bomber on Jan. 19. In that attack, 20 Israelis were injured, but only the bomber was killed.
Though Monday’s bombing was carried out by Islamic Jihad, a radical faction that is not part of the government, spokesmen for Hamas and the Palestinian Interior Ministry said it was a legitimate response to what it called Israeli aggression.
Similarly, Islamic Jihad released a video in which the bomber, Sami Hammad, 21, of the West Bank town of Jenin, said his bombing was dedicated to the thousands of Palestinians jailed by Israel. “There will be more such operations,” he said.
Even so, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, reflecting a split in the Palestinian leadership.
The explosion ripped through the restaurant just hours before Israel’s new parliament was sworn into office, and Israel said it held the Hamas-led government ultimately responsible.
Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, urged the Palestinian Authority to condemn the attack, as did the White House, which issued a statement reiterating that the United States “will have no contact” with a “Palestinian government that encourages or tolerates terrorism against innocent men, women and children.”
Israel did not say how it would respond. But around midnight on Monday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a metal workshop in Gaza City. The military said the shop was used to manufacture rockets that are fired at Israel.
Monday’s bombing also is likely to intensify the exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants that already takes place on an almost daily basis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“We had hoped to celebrate the Israeli democracy today in a different atmosphere, and now we are again forced to cope with murderous terror,” Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister-designate, told parliament in Jerusalem. “The government of Israel will do what must be done in order to deal with the terrorists and those who dispatch them.”
About 60 people were wounded, including two cousins, David Manshirov, 17, and Jahoun Ismilov, 17, who work in the restaurant’s kitchen and also were injured in the January bombing. The Mayor’s Falafel restaurant is on a busy corner in a working-class section of Tel Aviv where many foreign workers now live. The street where the bombing took place,Neve Shaanan, has been hit by six suicide bombings in the past four years.
Witnesses said a restaurant security guard stopped the bomber Monday and asked to see his bag. At that moment, the bomber detonated his explosives, they said. The guard was believed to be among those killed.
Islamic Jihad, which has rejected an informal truce observed by some Palestinian groups, has carried out eight of the nine Palestinian suicide bombings since the beginning of 2005.
Monday’s bombing was the deadliest in Israel since a double suicide bombing on Aug. 31, 2004, that killed 16 people in the southern desert town of Beersheba.
The Palestinian response to the latest bombing once again underscored the tension between Abbas, who opposes such attacks and seeks negotiations with Israel, and Hamas, which controls the Cabinet and the legislature, has carried out the largest number of suicide bombings against Israel and rejects negotiations.