Israel to freeze handover, bar Jihad from Cairo truce talks
Islamic Jihad bomber kills 4 in Tel Aviv nightclub; Mofaz freezes handover of W. Bank cities to PA; police on heightened state of alert.
Responding to a Friday terror attack in which an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed four in Tel Aviv, Israel decided Saturday to freeze the planned handover of West Bank cities and to bar Jihad representatives from leaving for Cairo to attend truce talks scheduled for March 5.
"The defense minister said that at this point the process of transferring Palestinian cities to Palestinian control is frozen until Israel ... evaluates whether (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas's government is indeed taking the necessary steps against Islamic Jihad and other terror groups," an Israeli defense ministry spokeswoman said.
The bombing at the entrance to a beachfront nightclub posed the most severe challenge yet to the brittle cease-fire formally declared by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on February 8.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi called a high state of alert following the bombing, ordering a heightened police presence in cities, around schools, near entertainment venues and around bus stations. In addition, police will bolster forces along the seam line, will erect roadblocks and work to seek Palestinians who have entered Israel illegally.
But there was no indication that Israel was preparing to move militarily against the Islamic Jihad, despite Israeli media reports that the defense establishment now viewed the Jihad as "outside" the truce understandings that have limited Israeli operations in the territories.
The suicide bomber, Abdullah Badran, 21, a resident of a West Bank town near Tul Karem, blew himself up outside the "Stage" nightclub, on the corner of Herbert Samuel and Yonah Hanavi streets, opposite the beachfront.
In a videotape made prior to the attack, Badran declared that the bombing was intended to do harm to the Palestinian Authority. The aim of the bombing was "to attack the self-rule Authority, which acts according to American interests," Badran said on the tape.
Three of the four victims of the bombing were identified Saturday as Itzik Buzaglo, 40, from Moshav Mishmar Hayarden in the upper Galilee, Yael Aurbach, 28, from Rehovot and Aryeh Nagar, 36 of Kfar Sava.
The Damascus-based leadership of the Islamic Jihad organization claimed responsibility for the attack.
The announcement of the ban on Islamic Jihad representatives leaving for Cairo was announced after senior Israeli security authorities met Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz Saturday night. The Cairo meeting is intended to help PA officials convince militant groups to formalize their de facto truce with Israel.
Abbas pledges to hunt down those responsibleDefense sources had told Haaretz that Badran, from the town of Deir al Ghusun adjacent to the West Bank fence, had connections to Fatah and Islamic Jihad agents in the Tul Karm region as well as with Hezbollah. Palestinian security officials issued a similar assessment.
Badran is believed to have made his way to Tel Aviv either via a gate in the separation fence or passed through the Rantis area west of Ramallah, where the fence has not yet been built.
Speaking after the attack on Friday night, Mofaz said that, "Israel will not hesitate to use force to reach those responsible for the attack."
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday pledged to track down those responsible for Friday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Abbas also called for a joint Israel-Palestinian investigation into the bombing.
"The Palestinian Authority will not stand silent in the face of this act of sabotage. We will follow and track down those responsible and they will be punished accordingly," said a statement issued by Abbas.
"What happened tonight was an act of sabotage toward the peace process and an attempt to ruin the efforts to establish a state of calm," the statement said.
The Palestinian Authority's interior minister, Nasser Yousef, told reporters that PA security services had arrested two Palestinians in connection with the attack. No further details were given.
Palestinian militants had earlier pointed a finger of blame at Hezbollah. But the pro-Iranian Hezbollah denied all involvement in the attack.
Rice: 'Terror will not be tolerated'Earlier on Saturday, Mofaz, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter met early Saturday to discuss the attack. After the meeting, officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Israel would insist the Palestinian Authority take decisive measures against the terror organizations in light of its failure to reach a ceasefire through negotiations.
Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said that the Palestinians must do "much more" in preventing such attacks, adding that the planned transfer of control over Palestinian towns to the PA has been postponed.
After an emergency meeting with his security officials, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that Palestinian leaders find those responsible for the bombing and "send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated."
In a written statement issued two and a half weeks after she visited Israel and the West Bank to lend her weight to efforts to revive the peace process, Rice condemned the bombing and offered her sympathies to the victims.
"Terrorist attacks, such as today's bombing in Tel Aviv, not only kill innocent civilians, but also undermine the aspirations and hopes of the Palestinian people." Rice said.
"It is essential that Palestinian leaders take immediate, credible steps to find those responsible for this terrorist attack and bring them to justice," she added.
"We understand that the Palestinian leadership has condemned the attack. We now must see actions that send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated," she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the attack and expressed hope that it would not put an end to recently improved ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Police closed roadsAn initial investigation showed the security guard at the nightclub spotted two men approaching the area and followed them, at which point one of the men blew himself up and the second fled.
Alon Kotler, a paramedic who treated several of the wounded told Haaretz, "We found young people lying on top of each other, most of them moderately-to-seriously wounded."
According to Kotler, the type of wounds people sustained point to the fact that the suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of the would-be partygoers.
The manager of the "Stage" told Channel 2 television that the club had opened only moments before the blast, and there was a queue of some 30 people waiting to enter.
There were four security guards on the door, he said, adding that the club was usually very busy on Friday nights. He said that he had been inside at the time of the explosion, and had heard a "large boom."
Emergency NumbersIchilov Hospital, Tel Aviv: 12-55-133Beilinson Hospital, Petah Tikva: 12-55-134Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer: 12-55-131Wolfson Hospital, Holon: 12-55-135Abu Kabir Forensics Institute, Tel Aviv: 03-515-8666