TEL AVIV Ñ Israel has been rocked by two simultaneous Palestinian
suicide bombings, which killed 22 people and injured more than 110.
The ruling Fatah movement as well as Islamic opposition groups claimed
responsibility for the bombings. Later, Fatah denied the claim.
Israeli officials said the response by the government of Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon would be limited. They said Sharon had pledged to the United
States not to undertake any action against the Palestinians that would harm
preparations for a Washington-led war against Iraq.
The bombs, said to contain 15 kilograms of explosives each, were
detonated by two suicide bombers in southern Tel Aviv in an area populated
by 80,000 foreign laborers. Both explosions were reported in the area of the
central bus station.
"We are talking of two terrorists who blew themselves 200 meters from
each other," Tel Aviv police commander Yossi Setbon said.
At one point, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah claimed responsibility for
the attack. A statement by the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade said
the two suicide bombers were Fatah members from the West Bank city of
Nablus. The Palestinian Authority and Fatah later denied this.
Sharon convened his defense minister, finance minister and foreign
minister in a meeting that ended on early Monday. Officials said the prime
minister stressed that he will not order any military attack that will harm
U.S. interests in the Middle East. They cited an Israeli delegation in
Washington that on Monday begins negotiations with the Bush administration
for $14 billion in loan guarantees and aid.
"The message by the prime minister is that the war against Iraq is a
supreme Israeli interest," an official said. "This interest exceeds that of
Israel's war with the Palestinians.
Overnight Monday, Israeli forces struck several targets in the Gaza
Strip. They included a factory in Gaza City said to have produced weapons.