A large-scale suicide bomb attack in the Tel Aviv area was prevented yesterday when police and security forces arrested an Islamic Jihad militant and his associates at an apartment in Bat Yam. The militant told police where the explosive device he was supposed to use in the attack was located and the bomb squad found the large explosive device in a garbage can in the center of Rishon Letzion.

The Islamic Jihad militant, 24, was identified in a statement the organization released to the Palestinian press.

Yesterday morning, the militant left his village of Jiblun, which borders the Green Line east of Jenin, carrying a bag with a bomb. Close to midday the Shin Bet received a warning that a terrorist attack was in progress. This information triggered an intense manhunt.

In the afternoon the police declared a state of high alert in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area and set up many roadblocks, especially in the city's southern quarters. Police patrolled the streets, carried out spot-checks on vehicles and searched the yards of buildings. Helicopters carried out searches from the air.

The police activity resulted in heavy traffic delays in the broader Dan region.

The searches succeeded in locating the terrorist in a Bat Yam apartment housing Palestinians without legal permits to be in Israel.

The would-be suicide bomber was questioned by the security forces and a short while later, he led investigators to the center of Rishon Letzion where he had dropped off the bomb in a trash can.

Police demolitions experts carried out a controlled explosion of the device after evacuating dozens of nearby buildings.

The militant said he had been ordered to carry out the suicide bombing in southern Tel Aviv. It appears the target was supposed to have been the Central Bus Station area.

It is still unclear why the militant decided to hide the explosive device he was carrying in Rishon Letzion and then proceed to Bat Yam - and not go directly to the target area.

The three Palestinians living in the Bat Yam apartment were also arrested and the Shin Bet is trying to figure out whether they were in any way involved in the planning of the attack, or whether they thought the would-be bomber was a laborer like them.

Following the arrest the state of alert in the Tel Aviv area was lowered and most of the road blocks were lifted.

A senior security source told Haaretz that the Shin Bet and police activity are worthy of praise and that their resourcefulness has led to the prevention of a major terrorist attack.

"There is no doubt that a major disaster was prevented," Major General David Tzur, commander of the Tel Aviv police district said yesterday.

Last night, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attempted attack in Tel Aviv. The organization has refused to participate in the hudna - the temporary cease-fire Hamas has been a part of - and has continued its efforts to carry out suicide bomb attacks. In recent days it has also announced that it would not participate in the Palestinian government of national unity, which Hamas and Fatah agreed upon in a Saudi-brokered accord earlier this month.

The United States has placed a bounty on the head of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shalah, based in Damascus, and the organization has warned that if its leader is harmed it will also target American interests.

Islamic Jihad is considered to be an organization that is supported and funded by Iran. The militant group participated in a suicide bombing in Eilat, in late January, that claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians.

The Islamic Jihad network in the northern West Bank is considered to be the most lethal in the territories. In 2006 its members were responsible for two suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, killing 11 Israeli civilians.

Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin said recently that during the past year more than 1,000 Islamic Jihad activists were arrested in the West Bank, of which the security services described 96 as "potential suicide bombers."