U.S. Calls for Israeli Caution Following Two Suicide Bombings

A possible U.S. strike against Iraq weighed

heavily in the equation as the Israeli government considered its response

to a deadly terror attack this week in Tel Aviv.

At least 19 people were killed and more than 100 wounded Sunday after two

suicide bombers launched an attack near Tel Aviv’s old Central Bus

Station.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

following the attack to convey President Bush’s condolences.

While the United States condemned the attack, Powell also signaled during

the call that U.S. officials want Israel to take no action that could

threaten Arab support for possible U.S. military action against Iraq,

according to Israeli media reports.

Sharon appears to agree with the U.S. concerns because he believes a

successful strike against Iraq is in Israel’s interests, according to

Israel’s Channel One Television, which quoted sources close to Sharon.

The sources also accused the Palestinians of trying to drag Israel into a

“hysterical” reaction that might inflame the region.

Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Al-Aksa Brigade claimed responsibility for

Sunday’s double suicide bombing, according to reports issued within hours

after the attack.

As it has following earlier attacks, Israel blamed the Palestinian

Authority for the latest terror, which prompted some Israeli politicians

to revive calls for the expulsion of Palestinian Authority President

Yasser Arafat.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is among those backing expulsion, but the

assessment among other officials is that such a move could disrupt

American efforts to build a broad coalition supporting a war on Iraq,

Israel Radio reported.

Reacting to the attack, Sharon told a group of young people visiting

Israel as part of the Birthright Israel program that there could be no

peace talks with the Palestinians as long as terrorist attacks continue.

“We see again today the severe nature of the things that the State of

Israel is facing. Our goal is to stop the brutal terror and to achieve

calm and quiet. Only when the brutal terror is stopped, only then we will

be able to talk peace,” he said.

“All attempts to reach a cease-fire even today are failing, due to the

Palestinian leadership that continues to support, fund and initiate

terror.

“The answer to what we see here in Tel Aviv” is aliyah, he added. “We want

you to come to Israel. We need you here now, more than ever. When I look

at you all, I see all the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people.”

Earlier, before the terrorists struck, Sharon lashed out at his main

political rival in the run-up to the Jan. 28 general elections, accusing

Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna of “inexperience” and of being ready to

advance peace policies with the Palestinians that would endanger the

state.

Sharon also said the nation would recognize that Mitzna’s policies are

essentially a continuation of the “irresponsible plan” of former Prime

Minister Ehud Barak, adding that it would be a “drastic mistake” for the

nation to return to that plan.

Following Sunday’s suicide bombings, Mitzna rejected Sharon’s attempt to

portray him as soft toward the Palestinians.

“At this difficult hour, my heart is with the families and with the

wounded,” Mitzna said. “I am determined to change Israel’s security policy

to hit mercilessly murderers and those who send them.”

Mitzna also reiterated his support for a security fence, which “will serve

as a protective wall between us and terrorism.”

Sunday’s double bombing took place in an area frequented by foreign

workers. Last July, two suicide bombers killed five people and wounded

more than 40 in the same area.

Restaurants, shops and sidewalks in the area were packed Sunday when the

two bombers blew themselves up on parallel streets at around 6:30 p.m.

Witnesses said the blasts were heard for miles.

Police estimated that each of the bombs weighed some 25 pounds each.

After the two explosions, “I just fled,” one witness told Israel Radio. “I

saw people thrown all over the place in the bus station outside.

Everything was on fire and covered in soot.”

Traffic immediately clogged on roads around the site. Rescue workers

appealed to drivers to stay away from the area in order to enable

ambulances to evacuate the wounded.

Many of those killed or injured in Sunday’s attack were foreign workers.

Police urged workers who were wounded to seek out medical treatment,

assuring that no steps would be taken to deport them. They also appealed

to workers to come forward if they had any information that could help

with the investigation.

Israel recently implemented a policy against bringing in new foreign

workers, and stepped up efforts to deport those in the country illegally.

Special hotlines were set up Sunday to help foreign workers.

Advocates went to hospitals to help the workers, many of whom do not speak

Hebrew.

They also went to areas where foreign workers live to see if anyone needed

help.

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