Officials: Suicide bomber kills at least 3 in Israel
Blast is fifth in spate of terrorist attacks
AFULA, Israel (CNN) -- A suicide bomber killed at least three people Monday at a shopping mall in northern Israel, police said. It was the fifth terror attack in the region since Saturday -- the day top Israeli and Palestinian leaders met for the first time in more than two years.
Forty-seven people were wounded in the latest bombing in the town of Afula. Thirteen of the wounded were in serious condition, an Israeli police spokesman said.
Palestinian sources said the suicide bomber was a 19-year-old woman from a village near Jenin in the northern West Bank. The blast was set off after she was confronted by a security guard at the entrance to the Ha'amakin shopping mall. The security guard was one of the victims.
Two radical Islamic groups claimed responsibility -- the Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
The blast at the mall came hours after a young Palestinian man riding a bicycle blew himself up in Gaza, killing himself and lightly wounding three Israeli soldiers, Israel Defense Forces said. That attack took place near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Drom. Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas are considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
The recent spate of attacks has killed 12 victims since Saturday night, when an Israeli man and his pregnant wife were killed in a suicide bombing in the West Bank town of Hebron.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, seven victims were killed in a suicide bombing on a bus. Also Sunday in eastern Jerusalem, a suicide bomber blew himself up, causing no other casualties. The bombings prompted Israel late Sunday to close its borders to the West Bank, blocking Palestinians from entering Israel.
The wave of violence has coincided with a meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen. The nearly three-hour talks Saturday night about the so-called road map to Mideast peace was the first time top Palestinian and Israeli leaders had met in two and a half years.
The road map -- backed by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- envisions an end to the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
An Israeli official said it was "obvious" the terror attacks were connected to the meeting. "The timing of these efforts can't be [coincidental]," said Israeli Cabinet minister Ehud Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem. "It's part of an effort by the terror organizations to prove to the whole world ... that the government of Abu Mazen is not in control."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said Israeli acceptance of the road map is key to controlling and ending the violence. Unlike Abbas, Sharon has not yet publicly accepted the plan.
"Once that commitment from Israel comes, we will all work together in order to achieve a full and immediate cease-fire, not through a civil war with Palestinians, but through a full commitment of the Palestinians," he said.
At the talks, Sharon urged the Palestinians to do more to fight terrorism before proceeding with the road map, said Ra'anan Gissin, a senior adviser to Sharon.
The Israeli military appeared to be holding back from major activities against terrorist attackers, CNN's Jerrold Kessel reported, saying Sharon didn't want to destabilize the new Palestinian government and that he would meet with Abbas again.
In addition, Sharon's Cabinet has decided on an Israeli boycott of any foreign dignitaries who meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, a senior Israeli official told CNN. The official, who did not want to be named, said any foreign dignitary who meets with Arafat "undermines" Abbas and will not be allowed to meet with any Israeli official.
In the wake of the bombings, Sharon has postponed a planned trip to meet with President Bush to discuss the road map.
Bush said Monday he was confident the Mideast peace process could move forward and vowed he would not abandon the road map despite the bombings. "It's going to be a bumpy road, but I'm not going to get off the road until we can achieve the vision," Bush said.
"I have confidence we can move the peace process forward," he said. "It's clear there are people there who cannot stand the thought of peace."