JERUSALEM – A Palestinian suicide bomber slipped into a line at a falafel stand and blew himself up in a crowded outdoor market in the northern Israeli city of Hadera on Wednesday, killing five other people and wounding at least 25.

The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was revenge for Israel’s killing on Monday of a leader of its armed wing in the West Bank.

The explosion at Hadera’s downtown market blew apart produce stalls, shattered shop windows and hurled debris and body parts into stores and buildings up to 100 yards away. The pavement was soaked with blood and littered with shards of glass. Bodies lay among scattered fruits and vegetables.

“I saw people torn apart and limbs scattered on all sides,” Shaul Yitzhak, who was slightly injured, told reporters from a hospital bed.

It was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip last month, and it dealt a blow to hopes that the pullout would create an improved climate for renewed peace efforts.

The withdrawal was coordinated by Israelis and Palestinians, but eruptions of violence since then suggest that militants and Israeli forces are lapsing into a pattern of attack and retaliation that fueled five years of fighting.

A truce declared in February sharply reduced violence, but did not halt it entirely. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with military and security chiefs after Wednesday’s bombing to discuss a response. “We will act in every way possible against the infrastructures of the organization that carried out the terror act,” he said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan condemned the bombing as “a heinous attack on innocent civilians” and said “the Palestinian Authority needs to do more to end the violence and prevent terrorist attacks from being carried out.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited the White House last week, and President Bush urged him to crack down on “armed gangs” that he said threatened peace.

Abbas condemned the bombing, saying it “harms Palestinian interests and could widen the cycle of violence, chaos, extremism and bloodshed.”

“No one is allowed to take the law into their own hands,” he said.

Israeli officials said Abbas failed to back words with deeds.

“Condemnation is very nice, but it won’t bring back to life the people who were killed,” said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “The Palestinian Authority has to take concrete steps to make arrests, to put people behind bars, to put obstacles in the way of the terrorists.”

The bomber was identified as Hassan Abu Zeid, 21, from the town of Kabatiya, near Jenin in the northern West Bank. Palestinians said he recently completed a sentence in an Israeli jail.

At about 3:45 p.m., Abu Zeid walked into the Hadera market, which was bustling with shoppers the day after it was closed for the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, witnesses said.

“He joined a group of people who were standing in line for falafel, saw that there were enough people around him, according to his satanic logic, and detonated the charge,” said Dov Lotzky, a senior police officer at the scene.

The victims included Israeli Arabs who live in towns and villages near Hadera and regularly come into the city to work and shop.

Israeli officials were investigating how the bomber got around a barrier Israel has built in the West Bank to block suicide attacks. The barrier has reduced attacks in Hadera and neighboring cities, but other sections around Jerusalem and to the south are under construction. Completed sections of the barrier have gates controlled by army checkpoints, through which the bomber might have passed.

Spokesmen for Islamic Jihad said the bombing was revenge for the killing of Luai Saadi, the Islamic Jihad commander in the northern West Bank, who was shot in an Israeli army raid Monday. The army said Saadi and a deputy were killed in exchanges of fire as troops closed in on their hideout. Israeli officials said Saadi had orchestrated suicide bombings and shooting attacks that killed 11 Israelis.

The killing of Saadi triggered rocket attacks into Israel by militants in the Gaza Strip, and on Wednesday Israel responded with artillery and air strikes on what the army described as open areas that were used to launch rockets.

Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said that despite the apparent link between the Hadera bombing and the killing of Saadi, Israel would continue to target militant leaders.

“We have no alternative but to cut off the heads of the terrorist leaders,” Ezra told Channel Two television. “We have no choice but to continue on the same path.”

(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


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