March 27, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP)--A suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel dining room in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya on Wednesday as guests gathered for a Passover Seder, the ritual evening meal ushering in the Jewish holiday. Police said 15 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The attack threatened to derail the latest U.S. truce mission, which survived two suicide attacks last week. An adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that while Israel was trying to reach a truce, it would have to reassess its policy in light of the latest attack.

The blast went off Wednesday evening, as the dining hall of the Park Hotel along Netanya's boardwalk was crowded with guests marking the Passover Seder. A suicide bomber entered the hotel, crossed the lobby and reached the dining hall where he blew himself up, said a local police chief, Aharon Franko.

The explosion tore through the ground floor of the hotel, blowing out walls and overturning tables and chairs. Bits of rubble and wires dangled from the ceiling. Some of the wounded were seen staggering out of the lobby, which was plunged into darkness by the explosion.

One man was covered by a blue blanket, and had blood dripping from his face. An elderly woman, her face covered with blood sat, on the sidewalk, attended to by several people.

Witnesses said they saw five bodies lined up on the pavement, some of them dismembered, including that of a woman in festive holiday clothes.

Police said 15 people were killed and more than 100 wounded - one of the deadliest suicide bombings in the past 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Netanya has been a frequent target of Palestinian attackers in the past 18 months of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The city's mayor, Miram Feyerberg, said it was impossible to prevent such attacks. ``This is a city that can be infiltrated from many different directions. It's simply unbelievable,'' she said.

On March 9, two Palestinian gunmen tossed grenades and opened fire at a hotel in Netanya, killing a 9-month-old Israeli girl and wounding more than 30 other people. Police killed the attackers. The Al Aqsa Brigades, a group linked with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the earlier attack.

Israeli police had been on high alert for possible attacks during the Passover holiday, with more than 10,000 officers deployed in potential trouble spots.

The country's police commissioner, Shlomo Aharonishki, said it was impossible to prevent all attacks. ``Even with more policemen and a broader deployment, we cannot block the centers of the cities,'' he said. ``This attack is more evidence of that.''

It was not immediately clear whether the attack would derail the truce mission of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni. Israel has said repeatedly it could not tolerate more attacks on its civilians. Earlier this week, Sharon convened his security Cabinet to discuss possible options in the even the truce mission fails. One idea raised was a large-scale military operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel has held Arafat responsible for the string of recent attacks, saying he has done nothing to rein in militants.

Raanan Gissin, a Sharon adviser, said the attack ``will require us to reevaluate our overall policy.''

``We are still working to achieve a cease-fire to which we are fully committed, but if the Palestinians have decided to choose the road of terrorism ... then we have to decide what measures we will take,'' Gissin said.

There was no immediate Palestinian comment.

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