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Israeli political parties have not really kicked off their election campaigns yet, but Palestinian extremists won several seats for hard line PM Ariel Sharon last night by setting off a double blast in adjacent streets in south Tel Aviv, killing 23 and wounding about 100. Many of the victims were foreign workers as well as new immigrants and Israelis, and Israel radio broadcast emergency announcements throughout the evening in Rumanian, Russian, Tagalog, English, French, Spanish and other languages. The announcements gave emergency telephone numbers and urged illegal residents to report for treatment, promissing immunity if they did.
"Credit" for the attack was claimed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah Tanzeem. Yasser Arafat and PNA spokespersons later condemned the murders and Fatah Tanzim stated that they were not involved. The PNA arrested an Al-Jazira TV correspondent who had reported the Tanzim claim and exhibited a letter proportedly signed by two activists. US President Bush joined in condemning the attacks as well.
The Israeli security cabinet met late Sunday evening to plan the response, which could variously be characterized as reprisal or self-defensive and preventive security. Throughout the evening, the death toll climbed gradually from "over ten" to 23. Extremist Israeli ministers called for killing Yasser Arafat in new and better ways, and extreme left Israelis will gather to chant "the occupation is killing us all."
Except for numbers, places and dates, the same script has been played out too many times in the past 26 months. By this time, the routine is familiar to every Israeli, including the certainty that the election period will be accompanied by more deadly attacks, as extremist groups try to ensure the failure of peace efforts and peace candidates. The attacks are sure to make Israeli acceptance of the Quartet roadmap more difficult, and have probably sabotaged Egyptian efforts at obtaining Palestinian consent to a cease fire.
23 dead, 100 hurt in double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv
Monday, January 06, 2003 Shvat 3, 5763Israel Time: 08:50 (GMT+2)
19:43 05/01/2003Last update - 03:26 06/01/2003
By Haim Shadmi and Jonathan Lis, Ha'aretz Correspondents, Ha'aretz Service and Agencies
At least 23 people were killed and 100 others were wounded - seven critically - in a double suicide bombing at around 6:30 P.M. Sunday evening at the Old Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv.
The two suicide bombers blew themselves up within less than a minute of one another, at the corner of G'dud Ha'ivri and Neve She'anan streets in south Tel Aviv.
"It seems according to evidence in the area that we are talking of two suicide bombers. Two explosions happened in parallel streets... It's a place where there are many foreign workers," Tel Aviv police chief Yossi Sedbon told Army Radio.
Dr. Yona Tannenbaum, the head of Abu Kabir Forensics Institute, said that the majority of the victims were Israeli, despite the attack occurring in an area frequented primarily by foreign workers.
Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said that the explosive devices used by the bombers were loaded with metal shards in order to maximize the destruction.
"From the extent of the damage on the scene... they were very strong explosive devices. In each case metal fragments were added to the explosives to increase the amount of death," he said.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claims attack
"The two martyrs managed to cross all the Zionist army roadblocks and reached the heart of Tel Aviv. One blew his pure body up at the old central bus station, and the other blew himself up in another nearby street," the message said.
The statement said that it was a double martyrdom operation that killed the highest number of "the Zionist occupiers on the land of Palestine."
The group vowed to continue suicide bombing attacks, adding that the attacks "would be a revenge for the massacres carried out by Sharon against our innocent people."
Initially, a reporter for Lebanon's Al-Manar television station said that Islamic Jihad had phoned him to take responsibility for the attack, but an official in the Palestinian militant group said there had been no official statement.
Israel seeks to reassure fearful foreign workers
Television stations read police announcements in English, assuring illegal foreign workers that they would not be deported if they sought treatment or searched for friends and relatives in hospital.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai ordered immunity from prosecution for all foreign workers caught up in the attack, through injury to themselves or their families.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to convene a security meeting at 11:30 P.M. with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the heads of the security establishment at 11:30 P.M.
The attack was the first suicide bombing in an Israeli city since November, when a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing himself and 11 passengers.
On July 17 2002, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the entrance to the Neve Sha'anan Quarter, killing three people and wounding 40 others. On January 25, 2002, 32 people were wounded in a suicide blast on Neve Sha'anan Street.
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