A Palestinian blew himself up on a sidewalk of King George Street in the center of Jerusalem late Thursday afternoon, killing three people and wounding scores, two seriously and six moderately.
The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, claimed responsibility for the attack on Hizbullah Television. The suicide bomber, Mohammed Hashaika, from the village of Taluza near Nablus, was a former Palestinian Authority police officer reportedly released from prison by the PA two weeks ago, after Israeli entered the city. Arafat condemned the bombing in a televised address from Ramallah.
Arafat reportedly received a stern telephone call from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who reportedly issued an ultimatum to stop the attacks. President Bush expressed "disappointment" in Arafat's "performance" in preventing terrorists but was "hopeful" that the PA leader would take the necessary steps.
Israel canceled its planned security meeting with the Palestinian Authority and U.S. mediator General Anthony C. Zinni, but agreed to act with restraint, without immediate reprisals. Zinni issued a statement laying responsibility on Arafat for not taking the required steps to prevent terror. Palestinian Authority West Bank chief of preventive security, Jibril Rajoub, said today that the PA would never dismantle various Palestinian forces nor arrest wanted terrorists. To expect the PA to do so was, he said, "unrealistic."
The United States has decided to designate Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades as a foreign terrorist organization, which would allow the Bush Administration to block its finances and prevent banks from doing business with it.
The Israeli government said that Arafat was personally responsible for the Brigades. "They are financed by Mr. Arafat, and they take orders from him," said government spokesman Raanan Gissin. "Arafat has not met the minimum requirements … of General Zinni and Vice President Cheney to make a declaration to stop the shooting, to stop the terrorism." Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy said that the bomber detonated his device, packed with spikes and nails, in the midst of afternoon shoppers in Jerusalem's busiest commercial district.
An eyewitness quoted by the AP said that he saw the suicide bomber seconds before the blast. "I saw him walking, looking here and there, and I saw he looked suspicious. I wanted to call someone, but I didn't have time. Then he blew up. I saw arms and legs flying all over the place."
There were reports that a second bomber or accomplice remained at large in Jerusalem. Security forces sealed off the area, suspecting hidden explosive devices or other terrorists in the area. The area was opened to traffic several hours after the attack.
There was massive damage to shops and vehicles in the area, with windows blown out up to five stories high. Police estimated that the explosive charge, reportedly concealed under the bomber's coat, was "quite large."
At the scene of the attack, Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert said Israel was "at war, and we will be at war for the forseeable future. I am not willing to turn Jerusalem into a closed military base." He asked resident to continue to be strong.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Channel Two, called for the expulsion of Arafat and the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority. Only after a decisive victory over the PA, and the reconquest of Palestinian territories, he said, should Israel create separation lines from the PA.