Five Killed in Netanya Suicide Bombing

At least five people were killed and 95 others were wounded yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up at around 11:30 A.M. at the entrance to Hasharon shopping mall in Netanya.

The wounded were taken to Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera and Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, and 27 were still hospitalized as of last night: one in serious condition, four in moderate condition, and the rest were lightly wounded.

Islamic Jihad's Jerusalem Brigades claimed to have carried out the attack. The group has carried out all four previous suicide bombings since a joint cease-fire declaration last February.

An earlier claim in the name of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades was swiftly denied by the Fatah-linked group.

The attack occurred when a man carrying a black bag crossed the street in front of the mall. An Israeli driver waiting at a red light noticed the suspicious man, and got out of his car to alert police officers in the car behind him - in a scene caught on security cameras and broadcast last night on Channel 2.

"Within a second I knew he looked suspicious," said the driver, off-duty security guard Nir Hudra.

Policewoman Shoshana Atiya-Deloya got out of her car and approached the man, but he started running toward the mall. When he put his left hand in the bag, Atiya screamed "terrorist, terrorist, take his hand out of the bag," she told reporters from her hospital bed. "Then people started running, crossing the street, running in every direction."

The guards stopped the man and pushed him up against the wall and away from the crowd waiting to get in. Nearby police officers rushed to help, and at that point the bomber detonated the explosives. One of the security guards was killed and the policemen were wounded.

"I was looking [the bomber] in the eye and he pressed [the button] and blew up," Hudra said. "I flew, and all I remember is that I was looking in his eye. I saw his gaze."

Huge blast

The huge explosion, also caught on security cameras, sent smoke billowing into the sky and debris flying and clattering to the ground.

"There was a boom and there was a flash," witness Yisrael Klein told Channel 2. "Seconds later, people were lying on the ground, some wounded and some dead. The most horrific sight was the severed head of the terrorist."

"He looked at me and smiled, a very frozen smile, and exploded," policeman Shuki Golan told Israel Radio.

"If the bomber had gotten in, the result would have been much worse," said Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi.

Concrete ripped off

The blast shattered windows and pock-marked the outside of the brown multistory building. Pieces of concrete were ripped off the facade, blood stained the walls of the building and debris littered the sidewalk.

Deputy Public Security Minister Yaakov Edri told Israel Radio that there had been no specific warnings ahead of the attack.

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said that the attack was the result of PA refusal to dismantle the terrorist organizations in the territories.

In a statement released by his office, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, and vowed to punish those responsible.

The attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel since October 26, when a bomber killed six people in Hadera, just north of Netanya.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the bombing is "more proof of the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority. Israel will act against the terror organizations with all its might and all the means at its disposal. Israel's response will be hard and painful."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called on the Palestinian Authority to "take immediate steps to prevent these attacks, to end the violence and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism."

He also demanded that Syria shut down the Islamic Jihad offices in Damascus.