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Israel Weighs Retaliation for Suicide Bombings  - 2004-09-01


Israeli forces have closed off the West Bank city of Hebron and are rounding up Palestinian militants in the area after Tuesday's twin suicide bus bombings in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, which killed 16 people and injured around 100 others. The government is said to also be weighing possible other options in response to the attack.

Following Tuesday's attack, Israeli security forces moved in on Hebron, from where the two suicide bombers came. The West Bank city remains under closure and troops arrested at least a dozen suspected Palestinian militants there overnight.

Two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up almost simultaneously Tuesday afternoon on two buses in central Beersheva. The Islamic extremist group Hamas claimed responsibility and Hamas supporters later celebrated in Gaza. Some called the attack a heroic event.

It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in nearly six months and many Israelis were feeling more at ease. Officials say security forces were able to prevent over 200 attacks since the beginning of the year. They say the security barrier being built in and around the West Bank and continuing military operations against Palestinian militants have worked.

Government spokesman Raanan Gissin told Israel Radio the security barrier, or fence as Israelis call it, is vital to security.

"Why is it that we have to bleed to death before the world understands why we need the life-saving fence," he said. "That's one of the main problems with this horrendous suicide bombing because the two terrorists penetrated Beersheva through a place where we are planning to build the fence, but there's no fence yet."

Mr. Gissin said the government would continue to, as he put it, engage the terrorists unilaterally.

Security sources are quoted as saying the government will renew efforts to track down and kill Palestinian militants.

And, Israel's Haaretz newspaper cites one security source as pointing a finger at neighboring Syria, accusing Damascus of harboring and supporting terrorist groups.

Israel sent warplanes to bomb what it said was a terrorist training camp inside Syria last October, after a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a crowded restaurant in the port city of Haifa, killing over 20 people.

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