Three killed in Netanya suicide attack; IDF imposes closure on W. Bank, Gaza after suicide bombing

An Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed three women and injured 90, five seriously, near the Sharon shopping mall in Netanya on Tuesday evening. The bomber, identified as 18-year-old Ahmed Abu Khalil from the West Bank village of Atil, blew himself up on a pedestrian crossing near the entrance to the mall. The Israel Defense Forces early Wednesday closed off the West Bank an and the Gaza Strip, banning Palestinians from entering the country, in Israel’s first response to the attack. The closure means that thousands of Palestinians who have work permits will not be allowed to enter Israel. The military said the ban, a routine security measure after such an attack, would be in effect “until further notice.” The ban was approved by the government, the military said. Late Tuesday night, forensics experts announced they had identified two bodies of those killed in the bombing, Israel Radio said. According to the report, a woman, 31, and a 16-year-old girl were killed in the attack. The body of another 16-year-old girl was identified later. At a consultation Tuesday night with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, intelligence officials said that Islamic Jihad had made a strategic decision to disrupt the disengagement plan by carrying out a series of suicide bombings. They said the group was trying to drag Hamas into joining this effort to undermine the Gaza pullout. B

Mofaz demanded that senior IDF officers and the Shin Bet present him with a plan to deal root out Islamic Jihad and intensify efforts to get to movement activists. Mofaz also conveyed a message to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, via the United States, that Israel would act where the Palestinian Authority fails to do so. A little after 6:30 P.M. a strong explosion shook the intersection of Herzl and Petah Tikva streets at the entrance to Netanya. Police said the suicide bomber walked east on the pedestrian crossing, carrying a 7- to 10-kilogram explosive belt. “It is still not clear why he chose to blow himself up on a pedestrian crossing,” Central Police District Major General Benny Kaniak said. The suicide bomber, who was heading toward the shopping mall, is assumed to have been planning to blow himself up inside. Police say he may have been alarmed by the two security guards at the entrance, or he may have just chosen the crowded pedestrian crossing as a target. Among those crossing the street at the time of the bombing was a group of French-speaking tourists. A few streets away a march marking the Maccabiah was taking place. “There is no doubt that had the explosion occurred in a closed place, like inside the mall, there would have been more casualties,” Sharon Police Commander Menashe Arbiv said. Many people in the area were injured by the impact of the blast, including taxi drivers standing at the red light. Their cars, with shattered windows and twisted metal, remained at the junction for a long time after the bombing. Ambulances evacuated some 90 people to Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera, Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, Rambam Hospital in Haifa, the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. The Sheba Medical Center reported that the a 16-year-old girl arrived there and had sustained injuries to her head and upper torso that were critical. She died of her wounds later that night. Two patients were taken to Beilinson Hospital – a child with severe wounds and burns and a woman in her 30s, in moderate to serious condition. The child was later transferred to Schneider Children’s Medical Center’s intensive care unit. Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg had been driving in the area when the bomb went off, and her car was hit. She and the others who were in the vehicle got out to assist the injured. Paramedic Yossi Rokeach said he was close by when the bombing occured. “Our station is 200 meters away from here. We heard the blast and started receiving reports of the bombing. We ran to the junction and found numerous injured people in the middle of the road and a few bodies. It was clear that a terrorist had exploded in the middle of the road,” he said. Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi arrived at the scene. Karadi said there that defense forces would check whether there was a connection between the suicide bombing in Netanya and the failed terrorist attack in Shavei Shomron in the West Bank, which had taken place less than an hour earlier. A disaster was averted when a car bomb failed to go off in the settlement. Referring to the Netanya bombing, he said that along with preparing for the disengagement and the struggle against escalating violence and crime, “this suicide bombing reminds us of the many assignments we have.” Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said after the suicide bombing that Israel would “retaliate harshly to this attack.” Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas sent a message to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon through his advisor, Dov Weissglas, saying he would act immediately to catch those responsible for the attack and indict them. Israel responded that the PA must act firmly against terror and that Israel would give it the required intelligence. Defense sources said Tuesday night that Israel will intensify the manhunt for the Jihad network in the West Bank, headed by Louis Sa’adi, also of Atil, about 13 kilometers east of Netanya. Israel will also continue its targeted assassinations of Jihad activists. Following the suicide bombing, Mofaz canceled his meeting with Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, which was scheduled for Tuesday night. Israel is also expected to postpone transferring Bethlehem to the Palestinians, scheduled to take place this week. The suicide bombing in Netanya and the explosion of the booby-trapped car in the West Bank were not preceded by any intelligence warnings. Senior IDF officers blasted Abbas, claiming that he was letting the Jihad “spit in his face” and that his failure to act against the organization was “foolish and dangerous.” “He cannot blink now. The world let Abbas evade the necessary steps after the Stage Club suicide bombing. He must not repeat that error. There is no point in working with him until he starts acting against the Jihad,” one source said. The bombing at the Tel Aviv club last February was the last suicide bombing to be carried out inside the Green Line. Five people were killed in the attack. BPI-info