Israel attacked by first female suicide bomber

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For the first time in the nine-year history of Palestinian suicide attacks, Israelis were killed and maimed by a woman "martyr" yesterday, less than 24 hours after Yasser Arafat's ministers called on all Palestinian organisations to stop targeting Israeli civilians.

Palestinian sources identified her as Shaanaz al Amouri, a 20-year-old student at Nablus university on the West Bank.

She killed herself and a male passer-by, 81, shortly after noon in busy Jaffa Road, in the heart of Jewish West Jerusalem, 30 yards from where a Palestinian gunman shot dead two Israeli women on Tuesday last week. About 140 others – including an American survivor of the World Trade Centre suicide attack – were taken to hospital.

Many were in a state of shock or were moderately wounded, but doctors reported three in serious condition. The Jerusalem police chief, Mickey Levy, suffered a heart attack while supervising the rescue operation.

The explosion gave another twist to the mutual recrimination between Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen. It seemed only a matter of time last night before Israel retaliated. With President George Bush broadcasting his disappointment with Mr Arafat and declining to send his peace envoy back to the Middle East, the prospects of a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table were more remote than ever.

The blast shattered the windows of about 20 shops and gutted a lottery kiosk. Sunday is a working day in Israel. The site, near the Sbarro pizza parlour where a suicide bomber killed 15 civilians in August, was strewn with shoes, lottery tickets, glass shards and masonry.

Israeli police were adapting their counter-terror strategy last night to deal with female bombers. Women have been involved in previous attacks, but never as suicides.

Earlier in the 16-month intifada, the typical profile was thought to be a young male, usually unmarried, from poor, often refugee, families. But that has changed radically. There have already been middle-aged family men ready to sacrifice themselves. One was a driver for an Israeli bus company, another the son of a Gaza millionaire.

Extreme right-wing disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane gathered near the scene of the bombing, chanting "Arabs out!" and "Death to the Arabs!"

Their hostility to the peace process was echoed by Jewish shopkeepers. "It's time we finished all this," said Yeheskel Abu-Zwilli, who has run a photo shop in Jaffa Road for 45 years. "Arafat's people should start thinking about what George Bush said of him, that he's a liar who can't be trusted."