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Sharon Considers Response to Suicide Bombing - 2003-08-20

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is meeting with top security officials to discuss what action to take over Tuesday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 and wounded more than 100. The attack was one of the worst in a 34-month-old Palestinian uprising.

Israeli leaders are considering what additional steps they might take in response to the bombing. The Sharon government has already broken of all diplomatic talks with the Palestinians and has frozen the handover of the four Palestinian West Bank cities agreed to last week.

They also blocked all Palestinians from entering Israel except for emergency humanitarian cases.

Senior Sharon adviser Dore Gold said the bombing dealt a damaging blow to the "road map" peace plan.

"There cannot be a peace process when there is a death process," he said. "There cannot be a peace process when our rescue workers have children trembling in their hands who came from prayers in the Western Wall at the holiest site in Jerusalem, on their way home. That is intolerable. Israel cannot be an experimenting ground for diplomatic initiatives that don't work."

The bomber was identified as a 29-year-old teacher, father of two and member of the militant group Hamas who wanted to avenge Israel's recent killing of Palestinian militants.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bombing was a major embarrassment for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who was meeting with Islamic Jihad officials in the Gaza Strip when it occurred.

He abruptly ended the meeting and cut off contact with Islamic militants, and vowed to crack down on them. Mr. Abbas condemned the attack, saying it cannot serve the interests of the Palestinian people.

He has used similar language to denounce previous bombings but has so far not gone after the militant groups, citing his belief that such action could spark a civil war.

The United States condemned the attack and again demanded a Palestinian Authority crackdown on militants.