A Palestinian suicide bomber yesterday killed at least five Israelis - including a civilian security guard who was trying to stop him - in the second attack on Netanya's main shopping mall in less than six months.
The bombing - the third suicide attack claimed by the militant faction Islamic Jihad since July - is bound to move security sharply up the political agenda in the approach to Israeli elections in March.
The five people killed - along with up to 50 injured - were outside the mall when the bomber struck. The blast blew out second and third-floor windows, and large splashes of blood were visible as high as 12 feet above the ground on the wall of the shopping complex.
Israel's Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, one of the candidates to lead the right-wing Likud party, threatened retaliatory operations in the West Bank and Gaza and said he had sought legal permission to blow up the homes of suicide bombers.
While some Israeli analysts predicted a harder line by the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, as he seeks to propel his new breakaway centre party to power, the attack, especially if repeated, will make it more difficult for the Labour leader, Amir Peretz, to keep the election focused on social issues as he had hoped. Mr Peretz said Israel had the "complete right to act with determination against those who would disrupt its daily life".
The bombing also increased the pressure on the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas - who unreservedly condemned it - to clamp down on militant factions operating from areas formally under his control.
The bomber was named as Lotfi Abu Saada, 23, from Illar, a village outside the West Bank city of Tulkarem.
Police officers said a civilian alerted the crew of a patrol car to the presence of a "tall, fair man" carrying a suspicious bag. Shoshi Attia, a policewoman who was in the patrol car, told Israel Radio the bomber "was wearing a black sweatshirt and the bag was on the right. I shouted for them to remove his hand from the bag and then the security guard caught him".
Ms Attia, who was taken to hospital with minor injuries, added: "I was looking him in the eye and he pressed [the button] and blew up. All I remember is that I was looking in his eye, I saw his gaze."
Naomi Mayer, a volunteer paramedic who was working in her office near by, heard the blast and ran out with her first-aid bag. She said: "There was blood and organs spread everywhere. One woman tried to jump out of an ambulance. She was shouting for her friend."
Sveta Sorokin, 47, who was also working in a nearby office, said: "I have never heard anything like it. I was in complete shock."
Syona Mizrah, who was in a café in the shopping mall when the bomber struck, said: "I am very frightened. I feel helpless. I feel anger and a lack of trust in the Palestinians."
A police spokesman said security forces were hunting for two cars seen at the time, one of which may have transported the bomber to Netanya. Islamic Jihad said the bombing was retaliation for operations against its activists.Reuse content