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Blast Rocks Israeli Shopping Mall

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Blast rocks Israeli shopping mall

2 dead in suicide explosion; 2 Palestinians killed in Nablus

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM, Nov. 4 — In a pair of bombings Monday, a Palestinian suicide attacker killed two Israeli civilians and wounded 12 at a shopping mall in a suburb of Tel Aviv. In a separate blast blamed on Israeli security forces, two Palestinians died when a car carrying a wanted militant exploded in flames in the West Bank.

AGAINST THE backdrop of violence, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government fended off three no-confidence votes in Israel’s parliament.

Sharon also rejected calls for early elections, saying it would be irresponsible. He was still searching for partners to stabilize his coalition and recapture a majority in the legislature.

In the 81st Palestinian suicide bombing since 2000, the assailant blew himself up in a shopping mall in Kfar Saba, a town just across the border from the West Bank Palestinian town of Qalqilyia.

“I went into the mall and in a passageway there was the guy who blew up, in a pool of his own blood,” a witness who gave his name as Ron, told Israel Radio.

David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, said the attack was “proof that Palestinian terror knows no limits, specializes in cruelty and specifically targets the innocent.”

Islamic Jihad, the radical group that has carried out dozens of attacks in the current round of fighting, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

NABLUS BLAST

In the West Bank city of Nablus, two Palestinians were killed — one of them a wanted Hamas militant — when their car exploded in the middle of the street.

Palestinians immediately blamed the blast on Israel, which has carried out dozens of killings of suspected militants. It appeared the car was booby-trapped and the bomb was detonated by remote control, said Moeen Sakaran, chief of Palestinian intelligence in Nablus.

Hamad Sadder, a member of the Hamas military wing who was sought by Israel, was one of the men killed, Palestinian security sources said.

His nephew, Mohammed Bostami carried out last week’s suicide attack in a West Bank settlement that killed three Israeli soldiers, Palestinians said. The second man was not immediately identified.

In the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli army shot and killed a Palestinian man.

TRIO OF VOTES

In Israel’s parliament, Sharon’s weakened government managed to withstand a trio of no-confidence votes brought forward by opposition parties seeking to bring down the coalition and force new elections.

Sharon said he opposed early elections, but he also insisted he would not change government policies to accommodate a far-right party whose support he needs to restore his parliamentary majority.

“Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible,” Sharon told legislators from his right-wing Likud party. “I hope everyone acts responsibly and doesn’t try to make it difficult for a stable government to function.”

After the moderate Labor Party quit the coalition last week, Sharon has the support of only 55 of the 120 legislators. Monday’s parliament session was filled with political maneuvering, but at the end of the day, virtually nothing had changed.

Sharon still needs the help of small, far-right parties to restore a parliamentary majority.

Sharon may have a temporary safety net from a far-right grouping whose seven lawmakers seem ready to prop up the government long enough to pass the 2003 state budget in coming weeks, but after that may favor forcing early elections.

Negotiators from the group, the National Union-Israel Beiteinu, presented Sharon with tough terms for joining his coalition: that he formally cancel Israel’s commitment to the 1990s interim peace accords with the PLO and declare the Palestinian Authority those agreements established a terrorist entity.

“This is a good opportunity to change the government’s policies,” said Avigdor Lieberman, a lawmaker from the party. “If (Sharon) won’t change the basic policies and he won’t change anything...why should we join the government?”

NEW DEFENSE CHIEF

Sharon has said elections should be held as scheduled, in October 2003.

In another development Monday, parliament approved Shaul Mofaz, the recently retired military chief, as the new defense minister.

Mofaz, known for his hawkish views, had angered Palestinians with his tough policies and supported exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Although Sharon has boycotted and sought to marginalize Arafat, he has refrained from expelling the Palestinian leader, heeding adviser’s warnings that the move would anger the United States and severely inflame passions in the region.

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