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On Purim Eve, Hamas Strikes at Busy Tel Aviv Shopping Mall

Israel was still mourning its dead from the attack on a Jerusalem bus when a blast in Tel Aviv a day later sent shock waves across the nation.

Jerusalem had been the target of Hamas militants in an attack Sunday and two attacks last week.

But Monday, it was Tel Aviv’s turn.

Shortly before 4 p.m., a suicide bomber struck at Dizengoff Center, the main shopping mall in the heart of Tel Aviv.

The Hamas terrorist claimed at least 12 victims and left at least 109 wounded, including children.

At an emergency session held after Monday’s attack, the Israeli Cabinet decided to create a new anti-terror command to combat Islamic extremists.

The command will be headed by Ami Ayalon, the newly appointed head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and will include top army and intelligence officials.

The decision to create the command was accompanied by a second Cabinet resolution that claimed that Israel had the right to enter Palestinian self- rule areas to round up militants.

The Hamas attack came when hundreds of people, many of them children in costume, were at the popular mall in preparation for the Purim holiday.

“Even we Israelis, who have known so many difficult hours, are reaching the ends of our nerves,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ronnie Milo.

He said he expected the government to take drastic action, and fast.

According to the initial investigation, the suicide bomber crossed Dizengoff Street, heading toward one of the entrances to the Dizengoff Center.

Just as he was about to enter the mall, he detonated explosives he was carrying that were estimated to weigh more than 30 pounds.

The grim accounts of what followed have become familiar in recent days.

Eyewitnesses reported that body parts were scattered throughout the street among mangled cars that had been traveling on the busy thoroughfare.

Screams of pain mingled with the wailing of ambulances that rushed to the scene just minutes after the explosion.

“There was a smell of death in the air,” said one eyewitness, who added that the worst thing she saw was the small bodies of children lying on the street.

Two hours after the attack, an anonymous caller phoned Israel Radio to say that the Tel Aviv attack came in response to Sunday’s statement by Prime Minister Shimon Peres declaring an all-out war against Hamas.

The caller warned that if the government took measures against the Hamas movement, the organization would hit back hard at the Jewish population.

Another caller later identified the suicide bomber as Saleh Abdul Rahim, 24, a resident of the West Bank town of Ramallah, which was turned over to Palestinian self-rule in late December.

Ayalon offered a gloomy assessment of the situation.

Speaking Monday before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ayalon said hundreds of Palestinian youths in the territories were waiting for their turn to become martyrs as suicide bombers.

Forty such youths were arrested Monday near the West Bank town of Hebron in the refugee camp of Al-Fawwar, home to the two suicide bombers who carried out attacks last week in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.

“As long as the sermons in the mosques continue,” said Ayalon, referring to militant Hamas preachers, “the operational infrastructure for suicide attacks is maintained.”

So far, he said, the Palestinian Authority does not arrest the militant preachers.

There was a growing feeling among Israeli officials here that only drastic action by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas – measures that would impair the ability of the organization to operate – could put an end to this wave of terrorism.

Israeli analysts noted a change in the pattern of Hamas terrorist attacks, saying that even though in the past there were periods between attacks, this series of recent assaults seemed to be deliberately designed to put a half to the peace process.

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