RISHON LETZION, Israel – A homicide bomber blew himself up in a southern city Wednesday night, killing two other people and wounding 27, police and rescue workers said. The homicide attack, the second here in two weeks, came on a day of violence in which six other Palestinians were killed.
Among the Palestinians killed in the attacks was a local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia. Another was an earlier homicide bomber, whose explosives apparently detonated prematurely.
Before daybreak Thursday, Israeli forces entered the West Bank city of Hebron, residents said. They counted a tank, three armored personnel carriers and five jeeps entering Hebron's western side in what appeared to be a limited operation to make arrests. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon scheduled a meeting of Cabinet ministers for Thursday morning. The Israeli media said the meeting might be used to consider a response to the Rishon Letzion bombing.
In Rishon Letzion, a residential community of 200,000, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said two people and a homicide bomber were killed and 27 wounded, including three in critical condition.
Israel television said the dead were a 15-year-old boy and a 66-year-old man.
The bomber blew himself up under a green canopy at the edge of a small park where immigrants from the former Soviet Union gathered nightly to play cards.
Police spokesman Haim Cohen said the bomber had colored his hair.
"His hair was dyed blonde, short, punk looking," Cohen said. "I'm sure he disguised himself so as not to arouse suspicion at the scene."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
"There was a loud boom and I just saw body parts," said witness Orin Mahmon. "I saw a guy all black and people with no arms and legs."
After the bombing, a body lay under the canopy, covered with a black blanket. Blood was splattered across the pavement and a blood stained red scarf laid on the pavement. One woman stood at the corner of the park crying because she could not find her son.
On May 7, a homicide bomber blew himself up at a pool hall in the same city, 10 miles south of Tel Aviv, killing 15 Israelis and himself.
Wednesday night's bombing went off at 9:09 p.m. on Rothschild Street on a pedestrian mall in the middle of the city.
David Baker, an official in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, said the bombing, "was another cowardly act of terror committed by Palestinian terrorists who have once again resorted to their murderous deeds. Israel will not buckle under in the face of terror and we will use whatever measures are needed to root it out."
The last bomb attack in Israel was in the coastal city of Netanya on Sunday, killing three people plus the Palestinian bomber and wounding dozens.
An attack on March 27 killed 28 people and set off a massive Israeli military operation in the West Bank, aimed at rooting out "terrorist infrastructure." During the operation, which wound-down this month, Israel took control of main towns and refugee camps and fought battles with Palestinian gunmen and bombers.
The Palestinian leadership denounced Wednesday's bombing, according to a statement from the Palestinian news agency, Wafa. The leaders called on Palestinians to "declare their condemnation of such terrorist attack." The statement said the bombing gives Israel an "excuse to continue its aggression [against] our people."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel condemned the bombings "in the strongest possible terms." She called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to exercise leadership against terror and warned the violence could not help the Palestinians achieve their national aspirations.
Arafat is under pressure to rein in militants and end the terror that has taken the lives of scores of Israelis over the last 19 months.
In his own internal battle, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won a budget vote in parliament on Wednesday, but the victory left his coalition stripped of its clear majority and vulnerable to collapse.
Sharon on Tuesday served notice that he was dismissing the representatives of two Orthodox Jewish parties from his governing team after they refused to back the budget cutbacks bill in an earlier vote. The dismissals went into effect early Thursday.
With the two parties out of the coalition, at least for now, Sharon's team commands only 60 of the 120 seats in parliament. A vote of 61 would bring down Sharon's government in a motion of no confidence at a time when Israel remains engaged in a violent conflict with the Palestinians.
Since Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in September 2000, there have been nearly 60 homicide bombings.
Earlier Wednesday at the Balata refugee camp next to Nablus, witnesses said Israeli forces fired shells at the camp cemetery, killing three activists and a bystander.
Among the Palestinians killed in the attack was Mahmoud Titi, 30, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader who had said his goal was to build a Palestinian army that would hunt and kill Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Earlier, at the main checkpoint on the edge of Bethlehem, Moussa Daraghmeh, 35, was shot dead during a confrontation with Israel border police.
The army said Daraghmeh was among a group of Palestinians seeking to illegally enter nearby Jerusalem.
Another Palestinian man died when explosives he had went off prematurely as he walked toward a road junction outside the West Bank town of Jenin, the military said.
In a statement, the military described Titi as a "senior terrorist" responsible for many attacks against Israelis.
In a March 8 interview, Titi told The Associated Press that his goal was to build a Palestinian army that would hunt and kill Israeli soldiers and settlers. Until then, he said, his men were examining maps of Israel to pick out targets for attacks.