Hours later, Israeli attack helicopters fired at least four
missiles at a target in Gaza City, witnesses said. There was no
immediate report of casualties. Israel Radio said the missiles hit
two Palestinian Authority (news
sites) offices and a building in the market.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Yasser Arafat
sites)'s Fatah (news
sites) movement, said the bombers were its members,
contradicting earlier reports that the militant Islamic Jihad was
claiming responsibility. The twin blasts came just three weeks
before Israel's Jan. 28 general election.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news
sites) convened an emergency meeting of key Cabinet ministers
Sunday evening. Israel responded to two similar attacks in June —
Jerusalem bus bombings that left 26 dead — by reoccupying most West
But with Israeli troops still in control of Palestinian
population centers, Israel's range of additional responses is
limited, particularly as the United States considers a possible
strike against Iraq and wants to avoid friction with the Arab world
over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A renewed spate of terror attacks could boost support for
hardline parties, including Sharon's Likud, in the upcoming
election. The Palestinian Authority condemned Sunday's attack.
The blasts were a setback to Egypt's efforts to persuade Hamas
and Islamic Jihad to halt attacks on Israeli civilians, at least
until after the elections. The bombings also ended a period of
relative calm. Previously the last bombing inside Israel was Nov.
21, when 11 bus passengers were killed in Jerusalem.
Sunday's attacks occurred at about 6:30 p.m. in a pedestrian area
filled with working-class shops and restaurants near Tel Aviv's
defunct central bus station. Both bombers had explosives strapped to
One blew himself up near a fast-food restaurant called "McChina."
The explosion ripped through the outdoor restaurant, overturning
wooden picnic tables and showering glass on the sidewalk.
Seconds later, the other bomber blew himself up in a commercial
area about 100 yards away.
Rescue workers said most of the dead were foreigners, thousands
of whom live in the area. Several of the wounded were treated on the
"I saw a man without a leg. I saw horrible things, people without
legs, without arms. I saw fingers," a witness who gave only his
first name, Tomer, told Channel Two television.
Yitzhak Teva, a barber who was slightly injured, said he was
cutting hair when the blast went off. "Half the wall fell on me and
I was covered in broken glass," Teva said. "I shut the shop and then
there was the next explosion."
Traffic jams in the narrow alleys around the old bus station
hampered the evacuation of the wounded. Bystanders helped remove the
injured with improvised means, using doors torn from their hinges as
In broadcast appeals, police told illegal workers they had
nothing to fear if they sought treatment or checked on friends.
"Please don't be afraid to go to one of the Israeli hospitals in
Tel Aviv, even if you are working illegally," one announcement said.
President Bush (news
sites) was informed about the bombing by Condoleezza Rice (news
sites), his national security adviser, who accompanied him home
to Washington from Texas aboard Air Force One, said White House
spokeswoman Claire Buchan.
"He condemns this in the strongest possible terms, " Buchan said.
"There are those who want to derail the peace process, but the
president will not be deterred. Innocent people have a right to live
In the past 27 months of fighting, Palestinian militias have
carried out scores of bombings in Israel, and Sharon has held Arafat
responsible by virtue of inaction. Palestinians say Israel's
military strikes have rendered the Palestinian security services
A Palestinian Authority statement condemned the attack and
pledged "to follow all those who planned and were behind these
attacks. Such attacks against civilians are against the Palestinian
national interest and violate all decisions taken by the Palestinian
Authority (and) must be stopped."
Claiming responsibility for the Tel Aviv blasts, the Al Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades named the attackers as Samir Nouri, 19 and Burak
Khelfeh, 20, both from the West Bank city of Nablus.
Egypt and Fatah have been trying to persuade Islamic Jihad and
the larger Hamas to halt attacks on civilians in Israel. Talks in
Cairo were to resume next week, but it was not clear if they would
after Sunday's attacks. Israel TV said Egypt was planning to issue
an ultimatum to Hamas to comply.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas spokesman, said "resistance will
continue." The Israelis, he said, "are killing us day and night, so
they should pay the price of their crimes."
Since violence erupted in September 2000, 2,029 people have been
killed on the Palestinian side and 713 on the Israeli side.