|A woman is rushed from the scene for treatment after a Palestinian
suicide bomber blew himself up at a shopping mall in the town of Kfar Sada,
north of Tel Aviv. (AP)
"I went into the mall and in a passageway there was the guy who blew up, in a pool of his own blood."
Witness who gave his name as Ron, in an interview with Israel Radio
|(CBS) A Palestinian suicide attacker killed two Israeli civilians and wounded 12 on Monday in a bombing at a shopping mall in a suburb of Tel Aviv. In a separate blast blamed on Israeli security forces, two Palestinians died when a car carrying a wanted militant exploded in flames in the West Bank.|
The bombing, the 81st by Palestinian militants in two years, marked a first test for Israel's new defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, who was sworn in Monday. Mofaz is known for his hawkish views and is an advocate of tough military action against the Palestinians. However, Israel did not immediately say how it would respond to the latest attack.
Against the backdrop of violence, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government fended off three no-confidence votes in Israel's parliament. Sharon also rejected calls for early elections, saying that would be irresponsible, but he was still searching for partners to stabilize his coalition and recapture a majority in the legislature.
Sharon's opposition to early elections suggested he would not accept a demand by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister. Sharon has offered Netanyahu the post of foreign minister in the hope it will firm up his government. But Netanyahu said he would accept the job on condition that Sharon agree to general elections in the coming months.
However, Sharon did not announce any decision on Netanyahu's status.
In the Monday evening bombing, the assailant, identified as 20-year-old Nabil Sawalha, blew himself up in the Arim shopping mall in Kfar Saba, a town that's northeast of Tel Aviv and just across the West Bank border from the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya.
Police said one of the Israeli dead was a mall security guard who struggled with the bomber, stopping him from entering a crowded appliance store and thereby avoiding more casualties. The bomber detonated himself as he and the guard grappled, police said.
"It seems that the alertness of the security force here prevented the terrorist from entering the shop which would have caused a great disaster," national police chief Shlomo Aharonishki told Israeli television.
Among the casualties were two lightly-injured infants, paramedics said.
"I went into the mall and in a passageway there was the guy who blew up, in a pool of his own blood," a witness who gave his name as Ron, told Israel Radio.
Palestinian militants linked to the Fatah movement in Nablus claimed responsibility for the attack, contradicting an earlier report ascribing the blast to Islamic Jihad.
David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, said the attack was "proof that Palestinian terror knows no limits, specializes in cruelty and specifically targets the innocent."
Earlier Monday, two Palestinians were killed, one of them a wanted militant from the Hamas movement, when their car exploded in the middle of the street and burst into flames in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinians blamed the blast on Israel, which has carried out dozens of killings of suspected militants. It appeared the Suzuki car was booby-trapped and the bomb was detonated by remote control, said Moeen Sakaran, chief of Palestinian intelligence in Nablus.
Hamad Sadder, a member of the Hamas military wing who was being sought by Israel, was killed, Palestinians said. His nephew, Mohammed Bustami carried out a suicide attack last week in a West Bank settlement that killed three Israeli soldiers, Palestinians said.
The second man killed in Monday's explosion was not immediately identified.
In Israel's parliament, Sharon's weakened government managed to withstand a trio of no-confidence votes brought forward by opposition parties seeking to bring down the coalition and force new elections.
Sharon said he opposed early elections, but he also insisted he would not change government policies to accommodate a far-right party whose support he needs to restore his parliamentary majority.
"Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible," Sharon told legislators from his right-wing Likud party. "I hope everyone acts responsibly and doesn't try to make it difficult for a stable government to function."
After the moderate Labor Party quit the coalition last week, Sharon has the support of only 55 of the 120 legislators. Monday's parliament session was filled with political maneuvering, but at the end of the day, virtually nothing had changed.
Sharon still needs the help of small, far-right parties to restore a parliamentary majority.
Sharon may have a temporary safety net from a far-right grouping whose seven lawmakers seem ready to prop up the government long enough to pass the 2003 state budget in coming weeks, but after that may favor forcing early elections.
Negotiators from the group, the National Union-Israel Beiteinu, presented Sharon with tough terms for joining his coalition: that he formally cancel Israel's commitment to the 1990s interim peace accords with the PLO and declare the Palestinian Authority those agreements established a terrorist entity.
"This is a good opportunity to change the government's policies," said Avigdor Lieberman, a lawmaker from the party. "If (Sharon) won't change the basic policies and he won't change anything...why should we join the government?"
However, Sharon insisted Monday that "the fundamental guidelines and policies of the government will not change."
Sharon has said elections should be held as scheduled, in October 2003.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
A human rights group has blasted the Palestinian Authority for failing to prevent suicide bombings, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch issued a report describing Palestinian suicide attacks as crimes against humanity, and said Yasser Arafat has not done enough to prevent them. Arafat was critical of the 170-page report, saying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas is the root cause of violence. Arafat has often described suicide bombers as martyrs. But the report said bombers are not martyrs, they're war criminals.