By Jeffrey Heller

terJERUSALEM (Reuters) – An attacker police suspected was a Palestinian woman detonated explosives in Jerusalem’s main shopping street on Sunday, killing herself and an elderly Israeli and wounding dozens, Israeli police said.

The blast on Jaffa Road was the third attack on an Israeli city center in less than a week and raised the specter of fresh Israeli retaliation.

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It was also likely to increase Israeli and U.S. pressure on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (news – web sites) to do more to rein in militants behind the mounting wave of bloodshed.

Israeli police said the bomber and an 81-year-old Israeli man were killed, but the circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear.

“We are not calling her a suicide bomber, just a bomber. She is not an innocent bystander. There is a host of possibilities regarding how the bomb went off,” police spokesman Gil Kleiman said. He said they suspected she was a Palestinian.

It was the first time a female bomber has carried out a fatal bomb attack in Israel during the 16-month old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

“We’ve had intelligence warnings on woman suicide attackers, albeit not recently,” Deputy Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra told Reuters.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The Palestinian Authority (news – web sites) condemned the attack. In a statement, it called on the United States, which last week postponed a truce mission by its envoy Anthony Zinni, to send him back to the region without delay.

Two days ago a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and wounded 25 people in Tel Aviv. Last Tuesday, a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli women on Jaffa Road, near the scene of Sunday’s bombing. Police shot him dead.

Voicing criticism of Arafat after Friday’s blast, President Bush (news – web sites) told reporters: “I am disappointed in Yasser Arafat. He must make a full effort to rout out terror in the Middle East.”
Sunday’s explosion occurred near the Sbarro pizzeria where a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 16 in August.

Reuters Photo

Asked about Israeli retaliation, Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites), said: “The military will bring its recommendations for the approval of the political echelon.”
Israeli jets fired missiles on Friday at Palestinian security targets in the West Bank and Gaza, wounding two Palestinians in retaliation for Friday’s suicide bombing attack. And an Israeli missile strike on Thursday followed the shooting attack that killed the two Israeli women.

Gold said that, instead of heeding Bush’s call to crack down on terrorism, Arafat had publicly expressed his desire to become a martyr for the Palestinian cause and called for jihad, or holy struggle, for an independent state.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority had urged militants to stop their anti-Israeli attacks. After Sunday’s bombing, it said: “The Palestinian leadership strongly condemns the suicide attack against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem.”
Bush’s tough talk about Arafat drew praise from Israel and a call for U.S. sanctions against the besieged Palestinian leader.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said Sharon would ask Bush at a White House meeting on February 7 to impose sanctions such as putting Arafat’s personal security force on the State Department list of terrorist groups.

Arafat, confined by Israeli tanks to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah since a wave of anti-Israeli attacks in December, declined in a Reuters interview on Saturday to comment directly on Bush’s criticism.

Bush discussed with his foreign policy aides on Friday what punitive steps he might take against the Palestinian Authority.

Jordan and Egypt condemned the Jerusalem attack, but the two U.S. allies urged Washington not to cut ties with Arafat.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the United States was sending the wrong message. “I’m afraid that these American statements will be understood by Sharon as a green light to escalate the aggression,” Erekat said.

At least 821 Palestinians and 248 Israelis have been killed in the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation that began in September 2000 after peace negotiations deadlocked.