Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Four die in Mideast suicide bombing

FATAL BLASTA 19-year-old female suicide bomber, who was also a literature student, took three other lives with her at a mall entranceway in the city of Afula

AP , AFULA, ISRAEL

A suicide bomber killed two security guards and a shopper in a northern Israeli city -- the fifth Palestinian suicide attack in two days. The attacks are threatening to wreck a Mideast peace initiative.

Palestinians identified the bomber who blew up the entrance to a mall in Afula on Monday as a woman, a rarity among nearly 100 suicide bombers who have killed more than 300 in 2-1/2 years of Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Claims of responsibility for the bombing came from both the radical Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to the mainstream Fatah headed by Yasser Arafat and the new Palestinian premier, Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas took office April 30 after Arafat reluctantly agreed to share power. Israel demands that Abbas crack down on militant groups, but Abbas has said he wants to disarm them through dialogue, not force.

In a harshly-worded statement, Abbas said, "We strongly condemn the killing of innocent civilians, be they Palestinian or Israeli, which contradicts our moral values and tradition and only feeds into the hatred of the two peoples."

However, Abbas added that Israel's military operations in the West Bank and Gaza "contribute to the surge of violence." He repeated his demand that Israel accept the "road map" peace plan, complaining that the wave of attacks has eased pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to sign on to the three-year, three-phase blueprint to stop 31 months of violence and create a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians have accepted the plan, but Sharon's government posed 15 reservations. Sharon was to fly to Washington on Sunday to discuss the issues with US President George W. Bush but canceled his trip after a suicide bomber hit a Jerusalem bus, killing seven passengers, a few hours before he was to leave.

Monday's blast in Afula went off at 5:14pm a back entrance to the Shaarei Amakim mall, where shoppers were waiting in line for a security check.

The attacker, identified as Hiba Daraghmeh, 19, 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 backward," said Etti Pitilon, 19, a border policewoman. "I saw bodies, but I don't want to think about it," she added, crying.

Two guards, a man and a woman, were among the three people killed. Forty-seven people were wounded, including several who were in serious condition.

The bomber was an English literature student, described as very devout by her father, Azem. Hiba wore a veil, in addition to the traditional headscarf. She left home Monday afternoon, telling her family she was going to class, her father said.

The latest string of attacks began Saturday evening, just before a Sharon-Abbas meeting, the first Israeli-Palestinian summit since the outbreak of fighting.

Hamas bombers struck in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, twice in Jerusalem on Sunday, and in the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, killing a total of nine Israelis and wounding 23. Three of the bombers were from Hebron.

The attacks come at a time when Abbas and Sharon are in a deadlock over who should make the first move on the new peace plan.

Abbas told Sharon during the summit that the Palestinian security forces could only move against the militias once Israel has accepted the new peace plan. Sharon said the first step must be a Palestinian crackdown on the violent groups.

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