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Bomb Explodes in Israeli Fuel Depot - 2002-05-23

A bomb has exploded at Israel's largest fuel depot, but police say a major catastrophe was averted and there were no casualties.

Israeli police say the bomb was attached to the underside of a tanker truck that entered a fuel depot, in the densely populated metropolitan area around Tel Aviv.

The vehicle caught fire but the flames were quickly doused.

Israeli radio is reporting a cellular phone was used to set off the bomb.

The heavily populated area is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and is close to major highways.

Police say they expect Palestinian militants were responsible for the explosion, which they call a probable "terrorist attack."

Police say a disaster was prevented, noting that dozens of tanker trucks stand next to each other at the facility.

Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israeli cities, but the blast at the fuel depot may signal a shift toward new targets.

Security officials said earlier this week that they uncovered a Palestinian plot to detonate a ton of explosives under the twin Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, Israel's tallest buildings.

The explosion at the fuel depot came the day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and at least two Israelis in the nearby town of Rishon Letzion, at a park crowded with people playing backgammon, cards and chess.

It was the second suicide attack in the town this month.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Hours earlier, the Israeli army killed a leader of the group and two others near the West Bank City of Nablus.

Palestinians say Mahmoud Titi and two others were killed when Israeli soldiers fired on the men near the Balata refugee camp.

Palestinian leaders denounced the Rishon Letzion attack, saying suicide bombings give Israel an excuse to carry out military operations against the Palestinian people.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the Jewish state will not buckle in the face of terror and will use whatever measures are necessary to stop the violence.