A suicide bomber has detonated explosives in central Jerusalem, killing himself and slightly injuring several bystanders. The militant group Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility.
The blast occurred on a busy street during rush hour near a downtown hotel close to Jerusalem's walled Old City.
The assailant detonated explosives packed with nails and bolts strapped to his body. He was crossing the street when the bomb exploded.
Blood splattered the wall of the hotel. Body parts and clothing were scattered across the road.
The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, saying the bomber intended to blow himself up inside the hotel "where there were Zionist leaders."
Israeli media reported that two cabinet ministers were in the hotel at the time of the explosion. In October, Palestinian militants assassinated an Israeli cabinet minister at another Jerusalem hotel.
The latest blast followed two days of intense Israeli air strikes on Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The strikes were Israel's response to earlier suicide attacks by Islamic militants in Jerusalem and the port city of Haifa that killed 25 people.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's foreign policy advisor, Danny Ayalon, said the military operation is designed to put pressure on Mr. Arafat to arrest militants responsible for attacks on Israelis. "We have given the Palestinians and Chairman Arafat all the chances in the world to do what he was supposed to do, what he committed himself to do, but to no avail. On the contrary, in a very cynical way, they kept on going with this terror campaign, trying to, on one hand, to exert some international pressure and, on the other hand, go on with the terror. This can no longer be," he said.
Palestinians said they have rounded up more than 100 militants in recent days, but Palestinian legislative council member Hanan Ashrawi said Israel's bombing campaign is making it difficult to make more arrests. "President Arafat has been elected by the Palestinian people and ironically it is those people that he can not protect, their security that he can not deliver. Yet with his hands tied behind his back he is being asked to deliver security to Israel and to Israelis given the fact that there is a state of occupation and constant, daily, ongoing incursions, attacks assassinations by Israel among the Palestinian people," she said.
Israeli troops continue to surround Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and are maintaining a tight closure in the territories.