Suicide bombing at Israeli disco kills 18
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- A suicide bomb attack in front of a crowded discotheque late Friday killed 18 people, including the bomber, Israeli police said.
At least 115 others were injured, 10 of them seriously, 22 moderately and 54 lightly, according to hospital sources.
Israeli television reported a caller claimed responsibility on behalf of the militant Muslim group Islamic Jihad and claimed to be a member of the group. Israeli officials, however, blamed Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for inciting Palestinian hostility toward Israel.
A spokesman in the office of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat released the following statement reacting to the suicide bombing:
"We condemn these attacks against civilians and call on all to practice restraint, stop escalation, end the military siege, end all forms of violence and go back to the negotiating table with emphasis on the basis of the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal and the Mitchell report. We call for a stop of all kinds of violence against civilians for our children's and their children's sake."
Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative to the United States, told CNN "We regret the loss of civilian life, both Israeli and Palestinian, but this attack happened in Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv is under Israeli security control and not Palestinian."
"The Palestinian Authority cannot be held responsible for the actions of one man," he continued. "We hope that the loss of these civilians in Tel Aviv does not lead to the loss of Palestinian civilian lives in Gaza or Ramallah."
Israeli police said the Friday night bombing inflicted the highest death toll of any single incident since the violence resumed in the region eight months ago. Of the more than seven dozen injured, 10 of them suffered serious injuries, 22 were moderately injured and 54 were lightly wounded, according to hospital sources.
Israeli radio reported that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security Cabinet will meet at 8 a.m. Saturday to consider a response to the attack, and whether to rescind the unilateral cease-fire Sharon imposed 10 days ago. Sharon had been scheduled to leave for Europe this weekend, but that could be postponed in light of the latest attack.
The bombing took place around 11:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. EDT) at the Dolphinarium Beach, near Tel Aviv's hotel district. The reports said the suicide bomber apparently got into a line of people waiting to get into a discotheque on the beach.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, and other government ministers swiftly denounced Arafat for failing to prevent attacks like Friday's bombing.
"We extend a hand for peace, I think now the whole world can watch and see what the Palestinian Authority is instigating in response," Gissin said.
"The whole world is watching, and I think the whole world will be able to reach the proper conclusion as to who is responsible," he added.
U.S. President George W. Bush strongly condemned the "heinous" attack against "innocent civilians."
"This illustrates the urgent need for an immediate, unconditional cessation of violence. I call upon Chairman Arafat to condemn this act and to call for an immediate cease-fire," the president said in a statement.
Bush also offered condolences to the victims and their families.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians have accepted, in principle, an international committee's report on how to stop violence in the Middle East. But they have reservations about how to implement it.
The Mitchell Committee report calls for a freeze on settlement activity, including what the Israelis call the "natural growth" of the settlements. It also calls on the Palestinians to crack down on terrorism.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir called for international pressure on Arafat to stop Palestinian violence.
"What we saw tonight in Tel Aviv was the Palestinian response to the Mitchell report," Meir said. Arafat is "letting his people continue this violence, this brutal violence that we saw here tonight in Tel Aviv," he said.
CNN correspondents Rula Amin, Ben Wedeman and Larry Register contributed to this report.
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