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Netanya Residents Angered by Bomb Attack - 2002-03-28

Residents of an Israeli seaside town are shocked and angered by a suicide bombing that killed at least 21 people and shattered the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Israeli-Palestinian violence has claimed more than 1,300 victims during the past 18 months - more than 380 of them Israelis.

32-year-old Azi Shmeuly was just leaving his house near the Park Hotel when he heard an explosion. At first he thought it was another loud crack of thunder in the early evening rainstorm.

He was among the first to arrive at the scene of devastation. "It was unbelievable - the smell, the combination of smell and views," he said. "I've seen so many terror attacks before, unfortunately, but this was hardest."

A Palestinian suicide bomber had entered the Park Hotel lobby just after sunset when 250 hotel guests - mostly Israeli - were about to celebrate the ritual first seder meal of the Passover holiday.

In the harsh light of reality a day later, shards of glass and metal are mixed with broken plates of untouched food. Wires dangle precariously from the shell of a ceiling. White gauzy curtains hang limply in the skeletal frames of picture windows with panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Park Hotel Manager Eric Cohen was happy when he left for home on Wednesday to celebrate Passover with his family. For the first time since the latest cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted 18 months ago, his hotel was 75 percent full.

Since Palestinian militants had targeted Netanya before, Mr. Cohen routinely stationed an armed guard at the entrance of the Park Hotel. Two weeks ago Palestinian gunmen had opened fire in the Jeremy hotel up the road, killing a 4-year-old girl and injuring several others. "Like most every hotel in Israel, we had one guard with arm [weapon]," he said. "And he was in the entrance of the hotel and should see everybody coming inside. But unfortunately, we know what happened."

Now Mr. Cohen divides his time between the hotel and the hospital where his brother-in-law, the hotel's operations manager, is listed in critical condition with head wounds.

Reception Manager Dahan Myrna is still trying to locate all the survivors, who were taken to half a dozen hospitals in the area. "We know that 170 people are injured so we need to find them, he explained. "When I know that my guests who were here are now in the hospital, it's something. I prepared everything for the guests. I prepared also the dinner time with the tables, everything."

Outside the hotel, workers wash away bloodstains from the sidewalk while curious onlookers argue about the appropriate Israeli response to the Palestinian attack.

"Enough is enough," said one of the onlookers. "We stretch our hand for peace, but it's time also to twist the other hand that's coming to stab you. It's about time."

Netanya's residents say they are paranoid about security because of the town's location - only 10 kilometers from the West Bank town of Tulkarem, long considered a Palestinian militant stronghold.

Netanya's mayor says police and security forces had been sharply increased for the Jewish holiday season but, he adds sadly, it was not enough.