Assaf Hefetz, the national police chief, said the bombs were packed with nails, indicating a guerrilla attack rather than a criminal feud. Another sign that the motive was political is that the first bomb exploded at 8.20 pm and the second ten minutes later, presumably to cause the maximum number of casualties.
The bombs were planted ten yards from each other in Neve Sha'anan street near a sex cinema close to the old bus station in south Tel Aviv. This is a very different type of location from the four suicide bombs which killed 58 people in February and March which were targeted at buses, a shopping mall and a bus stop used by soldiers. Asked if guerrillas were behind the attack Avigdor Kahalani, the Police Minister, said: "That's what we think." An eye witness said: "There was a very strong explosion under the Central Cinema, in a snack bar. Ten minutes later there was another blast."
Another witness said: "It was a tremendous explosion. A sunflower seed seller was hurt. Police arrived five minutes later. As they were checking things another bomb went off and a policeman was hurt."
The Israeli government immediately called on Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to clamp down on guerrilla organisations operating from within autonomous Palestinian areas. Militant Islamic groups had said they would avenge an attack by a Jewish settler on Palestinians in Hebron market last week which left seven injured.
It is unclear how far the attack will affect the talk on Israeli withdrawal from Hebron and the implementation of the Oslo agreement which would cede most of the West Bank to the Palestinians. This had already stalled because Mr Arafat has turned down Israel's demand for a two-year delay in its pull-out from West Bank villages.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the bombings last night and there is still some chance that they were the result of a criminal dispute, but several Palestinian factions are still committed to military action. These include Islamic Jihad, based in Damascus, which carried out the last suicide attack in Tel Aviv in March, and Hamas, which is divided about guerrilla actions, with its internal wing opposing them and its external wing, largely based in Jordan, giving them support. In December the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine killed two settlers in a car near Ramallah. The fact that nobody was killed last night in Tel Aviv may limit the political impact of the bombs.
A survey of Palestinian public opinion carried out by the Centre for Palestine Research and Studies based in Nablus showed that between March and December last year the number of Palestinians favouring military action had increased from 22 per cent to 40 per cent. At the same time Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP have been weakened by lack of public support and pressure from the Palestinian security services.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting the wounded in hospital, pledged to respond with "extreme severity" if it emerged the bombers came from Palestinian self-rule areas.
"If it becomes clear that the terrorists who carried out this attack came from the Palestinian Authority [area], we will respond with extreme severity," he said.