Bombing of bus triggers claims, condemnation
Arafat orders arrests; Israel blames Palestinian Authority
MEGIDDO JUNCTION, Israel (CNN) -- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Wednesday's suicide bombing that killed 17 Israelis and said the bomber was from the Jenin area, according to a Hezbollah TV station in Lebanon. (Full story)
Israeli officials were quick to lay the blame at the doorstep of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who shortly after the bombing at Megiddo junction, Israel, ordered the arrest of Islamic Jihad members responsible for the attack, Palestinian security sources said.
Abdullah Alshami, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, denied that the terror attack -- in which an explosives-laden car drew up alongside a bus and blew up -- was connected to U.S. CIA Director George Tenet's visit to the area. Tenet has finished two days of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders intended to initiate Palestinian Authority reforms to help stop suicide attacks.
"We are taking responsibility for the attack today as published by the news agencies," said Alshami. "Of course it will affect matters on the ground, but it was not our aim to embarrass the Palestinian Authority during the [CIA Director George] Tenet visit. Our aim is to fight the Israeli occupation."
Israel once again put the blame for the bombing squarely on the Palestinian Authority, as it has repeatedly after such attacks, for failing to stop terrorism. Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, promised "severe measures" in retaliation for the attack.
"Sixteen of our citizens are lying dead because Arafat, the Palestinian Authority have taken no action whatsoever to stop terrorist activity ... and therefore, all this talk of reforms are useless and a waste of time," Gissin said. "As long as Arafat does not perform, there can be no reforms that will bring about an end to this senseless killing."
Erakat rejects 'finger-pointing'
Palestinian Islamic Jihad is dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. The group operates out of Gaza and carries out attacks there, in the West Bank and in Israel. The group has carried out military operations against Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians. It introduced suicide bombings to Israel in 1992.
Different groups called Islamic Jihad exist in many Arab countries. They have no connection with each other and do not coordinate actions.
Israel's intelligence chief had warned a committee in the Israeli parliament on Tuesday that militants were planning what he called a "mega-attack" in order to crush any developing peace efforts.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned Wednesday's attack and said it was an effort by radicals to thwart efforts to find an end to the Palestinian intifada.
"We reject the Israeli finger-pointing and blaming the Palestinian Authority," Erakat told CNN. "President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority condemn the attack at Megiddo Junction, and once again reiterate the condemnation of any killings of civilians, Israelis or Palestinians.
"We believe that those who carried out the attack want to sabotage George Tenet's mission and [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak's visit to Washington," Erakat said.
Tenet had met with Arafat and other Palestinian Authority officials Tuesday. A meeting between Mubarak and U.S. President George W. Bush is scheduled for this weekend.
Prior to the bombing, Israel Radio quoted Israeli government sources as saying it had been told the United States wanted a regional ministerial peace conference to take place next month in Turkey.
Sharon, who met with his security cabinet on Wednesday in an already scheduled meeting, urged the ministers to show restraint, according to a report on Israeli Army Radio.
A spokesman for the Palestinian militant group Hamas said Israel was reaping what it had sown.
"If this operation (was) committed by Palestinian groups it means the resistance against the Israeli occupation, the Israeli incursion, the Israeli arrest of thousands of Palestinians in Jenin and Balata camp and the Israeli attacks are continuing and the resistance of the Palestinians will continue in return," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman.
CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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