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Israeli Port Blasts Kill 10; Summit Talks Off
Sun Mar 14, 2004 01:59 PM ET
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Reuters Television
Suicide Blasts Kill 8 In Ashdod Play

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By Rami Amichai

ASHDOD, Israel (Reuters) - Two Palestinian suicide bombers killed at least 10 other people Sunday in a double-attack at Israel's port of Ashdod, prompting Israel to cancel talks on arranging an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit.

Police said at least 20 people were hurt in the blasts at Israel's second-busiest port as day-shift workers were heading home. Bloody limbs protruded from a shed that had been crumpled to a heap of twisted metal.

"People inside the workshop told us a guy came to them to ask for some water. When they gave it to him, he blew up," said port worker Rafi Mashal.

The bombing took place just as aides of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie were wrapping up talks to arrange a long-awaited summit on reviving a plan for reciprocal steps meant to lead to a Palestinian state in return for peace.

The Israelis called off further contacts that had been planned for Monday ahead of a possible summit this week.

"We are not looking for a photo opportunity. We want a real undertaking from the Palestinians to crack down on terrorism," said Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin.

Islamic militant group Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, part of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed it as a joint attack -- the first suicide bombing in Israel since eight people were killed in a Jerusalem bus blast on Feb. 22.

BOMBERS FROM GAZA

The bombers, aged 17 and 18, were from Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp. Thousands joined marches in the Gaza Strip to celebrate the attack.

Palestinian suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis during more than three years of conflict, but almost all have crossed from the West Bank rather than fenced-in Gaza.

The West Bank and Gaza were seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and are wanted by Palestinians for a state.

 

Ashdod is 25 miles north of the Gaza Strip, a hotbed of Palestinian militants who have vowed revenge after Israeli soldiers killed 14 people in a raid on March 7. Security sources said they were checking the possibility of a seaborne attack.

"This attack is a response to the continuing Zionist enemy's crimes and its daily massacres," said Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction. Arafat's Palestinian Authority condemned the attack.

Israel has vowed to take unilateral "disengagement steps" that would involve a withdrawal from Gaza, but also cost Palestinians some of the land they want for a state if negotiations remain hobbled.

Earlier, the Israeli army killed three Palestinians it said were planting mines near Gaza Strip's border with Israel. Palestinian security sources said the men were Hamas militants.

The only two suicide bombers to get out of Gaza during the current conflict were two Britons. One of them, of Pakistani descent, killed three people at a Tel Aviv bar in April 2003. The other one's bomb failed to go off.

Israeli security sources said the British bombers and Sunday's attackers had used similar refined plastic explosives, more easily smuggled and more potent than the standard homemade belts worn by bombers from the West Bank.

Israel is building a huge barrier in the West Bank that it says will make it as hard for bombers to enter Israeli cities from there as from Gaza. Palestinians say the bulwark of wire and concrete, by snaking well into the West Bank, will annex land and deprive them of a viable state.

Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.

 


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