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Arafat Orders Anti-Terror Crackdown - 2002-05-08

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has ordered his security forces to prevent acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. Mr. Arafat issued the call after a Palestinian suicide bombing killed 17 people.

In a statement issued by the official Palestinian news agency (WAFA), Chairman Arafat says he has ordered his forces to stop acts of terror against Israelis. Mr. Arafat reiterated his commitment to participate in the international war against terrorism, and says his security personnel should "confront and prevent" attacks against Israeli civilians.

Mr. Arafat called on the international community to support his security forces, which he says have been devastated by recent Israeli military raids.

The statement follows the deadly Palestinian suicide bombing in a pool hall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion. The bomber walked into the crowded establishment late Tuesday and detonated metal-studded explosives, blowing out walls and sending bodies flying through the air into a parking lot.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility.

After the bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cut short a visit to the United States to return to Israel. Mr. Sharon says Israel will not surrender to blackmail, and will take preemptive action against Palestinians planning to kill Israelis.

A spokesman for the Israeli army says it is preparing for an order from the government to launch another major assault on "terrorist infrastructure" inside Palestinian-ruled areas.

Tuesday's attack was the deadliest since Israel began its "Defensive Shield" offensive against Palestinian militants in late March.

Palestinian Legislative Council member Hanan Ashrawi says she expects the cycle of violence to continue. "When you unleash all this violence against a captive civilian population, you are going to get responses in kind," said Ms. Ashrawi. "The question is to deal with the real causes, to end this escalation, to end the occupation, and to stop dealing with the effects, deal with the causes. Very clearly Sharon is going to use this as a pretext in order to escalate in a massive and irresponsible way that will produce even more violence."

On Wednesday, there was another attempted suicide bombing at a bus stop south of the port city of Haifa.

Israeli police say the explosives detonated prematurely, and the bomber was injured. There were no other casualties.