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Palestinian Homicide/Suicide Bomber kills 16 and injures 57 Israeli Civilians
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has claimed responsibility for a homicide/suicide attack that killed 16 and injured over 50 Israeli civilians in Rishon Le-Zion, just south of Tel-Aviv.
There are reports that 20 of the injured civilians are in critical condition. The last Palestinian homicide/suicide bombing occured on 4/12/02 - after a series of terrorist attacks that occured almost daily before Israel started its Defense Shield operation.
Suicide bombing kills 16 near Tel Aviv
RISHON LETZION, Israel (CNN) -- An apparent suicide bombing at a billiard hall Tuesday night killed 16 people and wounded dozens more in a coastal town south of Tel Aviv, Israeli police said.
The blast caused the building's ceiling to collapse, trapping some people in the rubble, an Israeli ambulance service spokesman said. Emergency workers said at least 51 people were wounded.
Mark Regev, an Israeli official in Washington, said the Israel Defense Forces reported that 20 of those wounded were in critical condition. Regev said the IDF received information that the militant group Hamas had claimed responsibility for the attack, but that claim could not be independently confirmed.
The U.S. State Department has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. Its military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has claimed responsibility for earlier terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.
The bombing took place as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met in Washington with President Bush. Sharon was told of the blast while he was at the White House: He cut short his visit to the United States and planned to return to Israel Tuesday evening.
A Sharon spokesman quickly accused the Palestinian Authority of involvement in the attack.
"It is clear the Palestinian Authority has not given up its terror actions and has not given up its murderous path," spokesman David Baker said.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat issued a statement about two hours after the bombing condemning the attack "in the strongest possible terms."
"The Palestinian Authority will take every possible action if it proves that those behind this attack had anything to do, or were coming from, Palestinian areas," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said. "We don't condone the killing of civilians, either Palestinians or Israelis."
The bombing occurred at around 11:10 p.m. (4:10 p.m. EDT). The billiard hall was part of an entertainment complex popular with young people in an industrial area of Rishon Letzion. Matthew Guttman, a Jerusalem Post reporter at the scene, told CNN the situation was "chaotic."
"There are hundreds and hundreds of police officers here trying to clear onlookers from the scene," Guttman said. "There is a lot of yelling and shouting and nobody knows what is happening here."
The explosion occurred on the third floor of the three-story building. Pictures on Israeli TV showed that the structure was heavily damaged, with the windows blown out and a ceiling collapsed.
One witness, who was leaving the building as the bomb went off, told CNN it was "the most deafening explosion you could imagine."
Rishon Letzion, which means "first to Zion," is a mostly middle-class Jewish city with few Arab residents among its population of about 100,000.
The last Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel occurred April 12 and killed six people at an open air-market in Jerusalem
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