Israeli security forces have seized Palestinian offices in East Jerusalem in response to a suicide bombing that killed at least 16 people and wounded about 90 others. In a highly symbolic move, Israeli police took over the main Palestinian political headquarters in East Jerusalem and other buildings in and around the city.
A blue-and-white Israeli flag flew over Orient House, the ornate, stone building that serves as the unofficial Palestinian headquarters in Jerusalem. Israeli forces also seized buildings in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village on the edge of Jerusalem, that has been proposed as the possible seat of government for a future Palestinian state.
Israeli warplanes blasted a Palestinian police station in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The building had been evacuated and no casualties were reported.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the seizure of Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem is a major provocation. "The sight of the Israeli flag on the Orient House will not be seen by the Palestinians other than a major, massive aggression against their nationhood, against their aspirations, against their sovereignty," he says. "Israel is really inviting just more bloodshed and enlarging the cycle of violence and counter-violence."
The moves came after a suicide bombing in a crowded Jerusalem restaurant that was one of the deadliest attacks in more than ten months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was in response to Israel's assassination of Palestinian militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held lengthy meetings with top security officials to discuss the government's response to the latest bloodshed. Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar told reporters that Israel will maintain its policy of refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians as long as the violence continues. "We still hope that the Palestinians will understand that it is inconceivable to live in a situation in which our citizens are attacked, shot, killed, injured by the Palestinians, and people will expect us to go on with the peace process," he said "We are not, we are not going to negotiate under fire."
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, and annexed it in a move not recognized by most nations.
The Palestinians want the eastern part of the city to be the capital of a future state.