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Suicide bomber strikes Tel Aviv cafe; police say at least 32 wounded
Group linked to Arafat claims responsibility in statement
By Jayson Keyser, Associated Press, 03/30/02
TEL AVIV, Israel -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded cafe in Tel Aviv's bustling entertainment district Saturday evening, wounding at least 32 people in the third such attack in four days.
The assailant walked into My Coffee Shop, a cafe on Allenby Street, a major thoroughfare, at about 9:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EDT) and detonated explosives strapped to his body.
The explosion blew out the roof and windows and overturned chairs and tables. Dance music was still playing inside the cafe after the attack.
Isif Avner, 43, said he and his wife were having coffee in the cafe. Avner said he had stepped outside for a moment when the bomb went off.
"I called out to my wife and a friend and they did not answer, but after a minute they came from inside," Avner said, adding that his wife and friend were unhurt.
Avner, a resident of Jerusalem, said he had left that often-targeted city for Tel Aviv to be able to enjoy an evening out.
Police said the bomber was killed and 32 people were injured, including four who were in serious condition and one who was in critical condition with a head wound and burns.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that identified the bomber as 22-year-old Mohannad Salahat from the village near the West Bank town of Jenin. The Al Aqsa militia is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki said he did not expect a letup in Palestinian attacks. "We are expecting many more bomb attacks. and we are spreading our forces as widely as possible," Aharonishki said on Israel TV.
In the aftermath of Saturday's blast bomb experts wearing body armor dumped trash cans and broke car windows in search of more bombs.
Curious, stunned and angry crowds gathered. A shocked Gal Peleg, 29, put her hand over her mouth. Then she said, "How can we live in this country? I don't know."
The bombing was a block from the city's trendy Sheinkin Street, lined with clothing and music stores and cafes.
Saturday's bombing was the third Palestinian suicide attack of the week.
On Wednesday evening, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel in the coastal resort of Netanya, killing 22 diners attending a Passover Seder, the ritual meal ushering in the Jewish holiday. On Friday, a woman bomber blew herself up at the entrance of a Jerusalem supermarket, killing a guard and a woman shopper.
The Netanya attack was carried out by the Islamic militant group Hamas, and the Jerusalem bombing was claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.
Gideon Ezra, the deputy police commissioner, said the bombing would make Israel only more determined to press on with its major military offensive, launched Friday to crush Palestinian militias. In a first stage, Israeli forces seized the West Bank town of Ramallah, confined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to his three-floor office building and moved into parts of the town of Beit Jalla.
"Our battle, our war, has only just started in Ramallah," Ezra said, speaking at the scene of the Tel Aviv bombing. "We need to take additional steps to prevent the entrance of terrorists. This is an unconventional war and in a war like this, the answer is also unconventional."
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.