Two dead in Jerusalem blast

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian – possibly a woman – detonated explosives in Jerusalem today, committing suicide and killing another person, and wounding at least a dozen on a street that has been the scene of several lethal attacks in recent months.

The dead included a man and a woman, and several hours after the attack, police said they were still trying to determine which one was the bomber, and which one the victim.

In Lebanon, the Al–Manar television station, run by the militant Hezbollah movement, said the bomber was a young Palestinian woman. If true, it would mark the first time a woman has carried out a suicide bombing.

Victims were sprawled in the street, shop windows were blown out by the force of the blast and at least one store caught fire on Jaffa Street, a bustling commercial strip running through west Jerusalem.

The suicide bomber set off the explosives next to a shoe shop, sending paramedics and doctors rushing to the scene.

In addition to the two people killed, more than 100 people were treated on the spot or taken to hospitals, though most were suffering only from shock, officials said. Three people were seriously hurt and nine had moderate injuries, officials said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Israel said it held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ultimately responsible.

Arafat is "encouraging terrorism, he's sending (attackers) to Jerusalem," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We will continue to systematically dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, "strongly condemned the suicide attack" and called on President George Bush to send Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region.

However, Bush has been sharply critical of Arafat, and the Zinni's mediation efforts appear to be on hold for now.

Israel has dismissed the ceasefire calls by the Palestinian leadership as meaningless, and say Arafat has simultaneously been encouraging militants.

Jaffa Street is lined with shops and the narrow sidewalks are clogged with pedestrians, particularly during the middle of the day. The streets were full of people today, the first day of the work week in Israel.

Last Tuesday a Palestinian gunman opened fire with an automatic rifle on Jaffa Street – only yards away from the site of today's attack. The gunman killed two women and injured more than a dozen people before he was shot dead by police.

Last August a suicide bomber killed 15 people in a Jaffa Street pizzeria.

Palestinian militants have carried out more than 30 suicide bombings during the current Mideast conflict, now 16 months old.

The Palestinian leadership issued a call on Saturday for a halt to all attacks against Israel. However, several Palestinian groups have said recently that they would no longer observe a ceasefire declared by Arafat.

The Palestinians say Israel undermined a month of relative calm, from mid–December to mid–January, by resuming targeted killings of Palestinian militants.

The Israelis said they acted because Arafat wasn't doing enough to crack down on the militants.

Just after today's attack, Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy suffered a severe heart attack, according to doctors at Bikur Holim hospital. Levy, who had rushed to the scene of the bombing, was in stable condition at the hospital, which is a few blocks away.