(AP) TEL AVIV, Israel – A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded outdoor market in central Tel Aviv on Monday, killing at least three bystanders and wounding 32, medics and police said.
Paramedics treated dazed shoppers amid strewn vegetables on the pavement.
Police searched the market for additional explosives. Channel Two TV said authorities were also searching for a car believed to be carrying a person involved in the attack.
Witnesses said the ground shook when the blast went off near a dairy shop.
“There was a woman whose entire body was torn up, all her body was torn up,” one shopper, Michal Weizman, told Israel Army Radio. “I was about 10 meters from the shop. I saw lots of people lying on the ground, lots of people wounded.”
The attack came after Israel said it would exercise restraint in its battle against militant groups while Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news – web sites) is being treated in France for a mysterious illness.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, whose group has carried out dozens of suicide bombings, said he did not know who was behind the attack. But he praised it as proof that “resistance is alive.”
Police said four people were killed, including the bomber. They said the attacker packed at least 11 pounds of explosives, about half the amount normally used by suicide bombers.
A witness, who was identified only by his first name, Motti, said he heard an explosion in the market.
“I thought maybe fireworks, or a gas canister. But then I saw a store, completely destroyed. Goods fell to the ground. People ran away. I lost my glasses and my hat,” Motti told Israel Army Radio.
It was the first suicide attack in Israel since Aug. 31, when Palestinian militants simultaneously blew up two buses in the southern desert city of Beersheba, killing 16.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites) was in parliament when he received a first report of the bombing.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the attack.
“We urge the international community to exert every possible effort to revive the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which is the only to break this vicious cycle of violence,” he said.
Arafat is undergoing treatment and medical tests in a French hospital to determine the nature of the ailment that left him in serious condition.
Palestinian leaders conducted a series of meetings Sunday to show that their government is still functioning, while leaving room for Arafat to resume control.
Israel’s threat to prevent Arafat from returning, along with periodic military attacks and sieges, kept Arafat trapped in his Ramallah headquarters for nearly three years.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet that Arafat cannot be buried in Jerusalem, but he reaffirmed his pledge to let the Palestinian leader return to the West Bank if he recovers.
Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian security chief, called Sharon’s comments a “shameful disgrace,” saying it was inappropriate to discuss the burial matter while Arafat is alive.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told CNN that there are “no conditions” for Arafat’s return, putting Israel’s pledge on the record in public for the first time. Until Sunday, the promise was a murky statement by unnamed officials.
Though no official statements about his condition were forthcoming from the French hospital, Palestinian officials insisted that Arafat’s health was improving.
On Sunday, Arafat called his finance minister, Salam Fayyad, to discuss the government’s difficulties in meeting the monthly payroll. The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (news – web sites), one of the largest employers in the Palestinian areas, has had trouble paying salaries, and October’s paychecks were overdue.
Arafat urged Fayyad to do everything possible to find the money before Eid el-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday in mid-November.
The conversation was widely seen as a message by Arafat that he is recovering and still in control.