TEL AVIV, Israel – Israeli warplanes attacked Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday, after a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated nail-packed explosives in a crowded pedestrian mall in Tel Aviv, killing himself and wounding 24 bystanders.
The Tel Aviv bombing came just hours after Israel killed a senior Islamic militant in a targeted missile attack in the Gaza Strip.
In reprisal for the suicide bombing, Israel carried out airstrikes in Gaza City and the West Bank town of Tulkarem. The attack in Gaza City targeted the Ansar security compound next to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's seaside headquarters, Palestinian witnesses said. Power went out in much of Gaza City during the attack.
Seven people were injured in the Gaza attack, doctors said. Palestinian security officials said Israeli fighter jets also targeted positions in the northern Gaza Strip but that missiles landed in the sea.
In Tulkarem, F-16 warplanes fired missiles at a Palestinian government complex that had already been wrecked in a similar attack last week.
The Israeli army said in a release that Tulkarem was targeted because the attacker in Tel Aviv had come from the town.
The militant Islamic Jihad group, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv attack, identifying the bomber as 18-year-old Safwat Khalil, a vocational school student from the village of Beit Wazan near the West Bank town of Nablus. Khalil's parents said he left home Thursday and had recently become a devout Muslim.
A suspected accomplice in the Tel Aviv attack was arrested, police said. A Kalashnikov assault rifle was discovered at the scene, and Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the man dropped the weapon he had meant to fire at pedestrians after the explosion went off. Israel TV said the rifle had jammed.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority traded blame, each holding the other responsible for the recent escalation of violence. Israel said it would retaliate for the latest attacks on its civilians, while Islamic militants clamored for revenge following Israeli military strikes that killed five Hamas members this week.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, thousands of Palestinians shouted in Hebrew, "No security, no security," and some handed out candy in celebration of the Tel Aviv attack, the first suicide bombing in Israel since a Dec. 2 attack on a bus in Haifa.
Thirty-one Palestinians have killed themselves in suicide bombings against Israeli targets in 16 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. In addition, there have been several suicide missions by gunmen who had no hope of surviving their attacks.
Just before noon, the assailant detonated explosives strapped to his body, spraying fire, nails, blood and flesh along the brick walkway near the city's old abandoned bus station.
The rundown neighborhood is home to tens of thousands of foreign laborers from the Philippines, Africa and Eastern Europe and was crowded with shoppers.
Mary Martin, a 47-year-old Filipino, was at the home of an elderly Israeli woman she cares for when the explosion went off outside her apartment. She recognized her home on the TV news and raced to the scene.
"I'm so scared. I'm so nervous," she said, standing in front of a police barricade.
The street is lined with ethnic restaurants, groceries and sidewalk pubs. The force of the blast shattered windows and sent debris raining down from apartment balconies. Sidewalk tables were overturned and the smell of beer hung over the scene.
"There was a big boom. I saw three or four people on the ground. There was black smoke and a lot of panic," said a 50-year-old pharmacist, who would only give his first name, Moshe.
In all, 24 people were wounded, including three who were in serious condition, police said.
Palestinian Authority officials accused Israel of triggering the latest round of violence – after several weeks of relative calm – by renewing targeted killings of suspected militants.
"The only way out of this cycle of violence is for Israel to declare that it will stop its aggression ... and return to serious negotiations in order to renew hope among the Palestinians," said the Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub.
The Palestinian Cabinet, after a meeting late Friday, called for all Palestinian groups to observe "a cease-fire and completely stop all military operations against Israel that do not contribute to our national cause at all."
On Tuesday, Israeli commandos killed four senior members of Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, in a raid of their hide-out in the West Bank town of Nablus. Hours later a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israeli women waiting for a bus in Jerusalem.
Late Thursday, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a car in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing an Izzedine al Qassam commander, Bakr Hamdan, 28, and seriously injuring two others.
Thousands of Palestinians crowded around the burned-out shell of the car before his funeral Friday, and Ahmed Hamdan, a Hamas spiritual leader and relative of the dead militant, declared, "Hamas will not forget the blood of the martyrs, and Hamas will avenge every drop of his blood."
Israel's military said it killed Hamdan because he was involved in dozens of shooting and bomb attacks on Israeli troops and civilians.
In the West Bank, about 4,000 Palestinians marched to Arafat's Ramallah compound, where he has been confined by Israel since last week. The demonstrators demanded that Arafat release suspected militants rounded up after his Dec. 16 truce call.
Arafat complained Friday that the world has forgotten the Palestinians' plight. "We are the only people under occupation all over the world. Can this be accepted internationally? And why do the Palestinians have to be under occupation?" Arafat said in an interview with Greek TV.
U.S. officials in Washington have expressed understanding for recent Israeli steps, including holding Arafat under virtual house arrest.
President Bush said Friday he was "very disappointed" in Arafat over an attempt to smuggle weapons to the Palestinians. "That's enhancing terror," Bush said after reviewing U.S. ties to Arafat with his senior advisers.
The Palestinian Cabinet blamed Israel for the new American position.
"The Palestinian Authority is astonished by the positions of some Americans who have been convinced by the Israeli propaganda and lies," read the release.