Terror strikes in Jerusalem kill 10
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Three terrorist bombings in a crowded pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem on Saturday night killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 180 others, police said.
In addition to the 10 fatalities, at least two bombers died as they blew themselves up just before midnight in Zion Square, Israeli police said. A third explosion minutes later, police said, was a car bomb, timed to explode as rescue workers came to tend to the casualties.
Stores and restaurants were badly damaged in the blast. Authorities said at least 19 people were critically injured, 28 moderately injured, and the rest were lightly injured.
The mall was crowded with mostly young people, who had come out after sundown marked the end of the Sabbath.
"This is the worst attack on Jerusalem that has ever happened," said Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner.
Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat condemns the attacks "in the strongest possible terms."
In the United States, President Bush issued a strong statement from his retreat at Camp David, Maryland.
"I was horrified and saddened to learn of the bombings that took place tonight in Jerusalem. I strongly condemn them as acts of murder than no person of conscience can tolerate and no cause can ever justify.
"On behalf of the American people, I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims, to my friend, Prime Minister Sharon and to all the people of Israel," the president said.
Palestinian Representative to the United States Hassan Abdel Rahman also condemned the bombings, but said the desperation behind such acts must be understood.
"We have no hesitation in condemning the violence and those acts of violence, and we condemn the killing of civilians, as we say always, Palestinian civilians as well as Israeli civilians," Rahman said. "But having said that, we also have to condemn the conditions that lead people to desperation." He said those conditions were "Israel's occupation that has lasted for 45 years that lead people to do desperate and despicable things sometimes."
No group had claimed responsibility as yet for the bombings.
Saturday's terrorist attacks prompted Bush to move up a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is in the United States, from Monday to Sunday. Bush will leave Camp David and return to the White House for the noon meeting, a senior administration official said. The president also called Sharon late Saturday to express his condolences and to tell Sharon he looked forward to meeting with him, the official said.
Israeli officials said Sharon will return to Israel immediately after the meeting.
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed the blame for the attacks at Arafat's feet.
"I think he's squarely responsible," Netanyahu told CNN. "I think it's time to unmask this fraud and tell Arafat what you (the United States) are telling the Taliban in Afghanistan, 'Surrender terrorism or surrender power.'"
Pazner said there's no need to wait for a claim of responsibility for the terrorist attacks.
"There is not yet a claim, but we don't need a claim for responsibility, we know who's responsible: The responsible is Arafat, who has done nothing to stop terrorism all these years," he said.
Palestinian spokesman Erakat said the Palestinians have been trying their best to sustain the cease-fire.
"We don't condone the killing of Israeli or Palestinian civilians, but we all know that violence brings violence, assassinations bring assassinations, we need immediately to get back to the political track," he said.
Israeli Cabinet Member Dan Meridor said Arafat is not a suitable peace partner if he cannot control the violence.
"If we have an agreement with him tomorrow morning if he cannot carry it out why should we talk to him?" Meridor said. "He is the guy to take the responsibility ... we are tired of his words, he should take action immediately. People get killed in the streets. It will not go on like this forever."
Erakat said Arafat immediately convened an emergency meeting of his security advisers, and spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and retired U.S. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni about the attack. Zinni is in the region to broker a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Zinni said he condemns "in the strongest possible terms the vicious and evil terrorist attacks in Jerusalem."
"I spoke with Chairman Arafat tonight and made absolutely clear that those responsible for planning and carrying out these attacks must be found and brought to justice," he said in a statement. "There can be no delay, no excuses for not acting right away... these despicable actions can only be prevented if the Palestinians act in a comprehensive and sustained manner to root out terrorism and terrorists and bring them to justice."
The attacks come on the heels of the arrest of more than a dozen members of the radical Islamic Jihad group after the group claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks in Israel this week. Palestinian authorities said many of the arrests occurred on the West Bank, including the arrest of Mohammed al-Hindi, a top operative of the group.
Israel and the United States have demanded that Arafat crack down on Islamic militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in dozens of attacks in recent years.
Pazner said Israel "will certainly react" to this latest attack.
"Israel will not remain passive before such a tragedy," he said. "In such a situation, when blood is running here through the streets of Jerusalem, Israel will not remain inactive."
After Zinni held meetings Wednesday with Sharon and Arafat, he stressed it is time to end the region's violence and move back toward peace.
"I think both sides have suffered far too much in the last months, and I think it's time for a change," Zinni said Wednesday. "I'm convinced both sides made a commitment to this, and we have made a commitment to help in this process, and I think it's important for everyone on all sides -- all citizens -- to commit to this."
In their meeting Wednesday, Arafat told Zinni he is prepared to devote 100 percent of his efforts to stop ongoing violence on the Palestinian side. But Palestinians remained skeptical, saying Sharon wants to sabotage the latest U.S. peace mission by instigating attacks.
Israelis placed the onus on the Palestinian side, and said unless Arafat proves his complete dedication to stop violence, there will be no hope of a cease-fire.
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