- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A suicide
bombing that killed 16 Israelis starting a traditional Passover holiday
feast in a seaside hotel has raised the specter of heavy Israeli military
retaliation in the Palestinian territories.
- Wednesday's blast, which wounded 140, seemed to have
crippled U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's chances of brokering a cease-fire soon
and undermined a Saudi plan for a broad Arab peace accord with Israel unveiled
at an Arab summit in Beirut.
- The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility
for the attack. The Israeli government blamed Palestinian President Yasser
Arafat for not cracking down on militants.
- Arafat's Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing,
in the Mediterranean resort town of Netanya, and vowed to hunt down those
behind the attack.
- But Israel's tough words raised the prospect of fierce
retaliation after analysts on both sides predicted an escalating cycle
of tit-for-tat bloodshed in the face of Zinni's failure so far to bridge
differences over cease-fire terms.
- The United States and the European Union bemoaned the
latest in a series of Palestinian suicide bombings punctuating the 18-month-old
uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- "I am horrified at the level of violence reached.
Civilians on both sides are by now the main victims of a conflict situation
which they never chose to be part of," EU foreign policy chief Javier
Solana said in a statement.
- "I appeal to the parties to find, at this gravest
of times, the courage to pursue last-ditch efforts to reach a cease-fire."
- In Atlanta, Georgia, President Bush said "callous
cold-blooded...terrorist killing" in the Middle East must be stopped.
"I condemn it in the strongest of terms."
- DEATH TOLL MOUNTS
- At least 1,106 Palestinians and 373 Israelis have died
in almost 18 months of tit-for-tat violence.
- Wednesday's was one of the bloodiest suicide assaults
of the Palestinian uprising. In the worst such attack, a Palestinian blew
himself up outside a Tel Aviv disco last June, killing 21 people, many
of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
- Zinni's cease-fire efforts had already been deadlocked
before the bombing. The sides disagree over terms for implementing a truce
that would pave the way for confidence-building measures and eventually
- The United States says Arafat should do more to prevent
such attacks, but has also criticized Sharon for launching a major military
offensive this month which included raids on refugee camps and brief reoccupations
of some Palestinian cities.
- Relations between Arafat and Sharon, who are old foes,
also deteriorated this week as the Israeli prime minister refused to lift
a more than three-month-old travel ban to allow the Palestinian leader
to attend the Beirut summit.
- The summit itself plunged into disarray when the Palestinian
delegation walked out, saying Lebanon had refused to let Arafat address
the meeting by satellite from his West Bank base.
- Lebanese President Emile Lahoud sought to rescue the
summit from collapse, and a Palestinian minister said later his team would
rejoin the talks on Thursday, when Arafat's speech would be broadcast.
The row threatened to diminish the impact of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's
plan for "normal ties" with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal
from all occupied Arab land and creation of a Palestinian state. His initiative
proposes "normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for
full withdrawal from all occupied territories."
- BOMB DEVASTATION
- The suicide bomb devastated the dining room of the luxury
Park Hotel in Netanya, leaving wires dangling and chunks of concrete and
metal bars across broken chairs and tables.
- Corpses were lined up in white bodybags on the pavement.
Rescue workers clambered through the wreckage and stretchered away dazed
- Israeli media said the bomber walked in with the explosives
in a bag as guests prepared for a feast at the start of the Passover, which
marks the biblical exodus from Egypt.