HAIFA, Israel -- A Palestinian woman fought her way past the security guard of a popular restaurant co-owned by Jews and Arabs yesterday, plunged into the seaside eatery, and detonated a huge bomb. At least 19 people -- including four children and four Arabs -- were killed, and more than 50 were wounded.
The attack occurred at 2:15 p.m. a day before the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The restaurant, Maxim, was packed with Sabbath afternoon diners and the coaches and administrators of Maccabi Haifa, Israel's most successful soccer team, who use Maxim as a hangout. Several from the team were among the injured.
The blast gutted the restaurant, shattering all its windows, partially collapsing the roof, and strewing blood-stained glass, flesh, furniture, and patrons' personal effects across a broad area.
The bombing set off intense speculation over whether Israel now would "remove" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as its Cabinet voted to do two weeks ago without specifying whether this meant expulsion or assassination. There was no immediate movement of Israeli forces into Ramallah, where Arafat lives in the ruins of his former West Bank administrative headquarters.
But several hours after the attack, Israeli helicopters launched missiles at a Gaza Strip house belonging to an Islamic Jihad leader in the Boureij refugee camp, witnesses told the Associated Press.
Gideon Zilberstein, 63, said he had entered the restaurant with his wife, son, and daughter-in-law a little before 2 p.m.
"I was seated with my back to the entrance, so I didn't see the struggle between the guard and the terrorist girl, but I heard the noises," Zilberstein said at Rambam Medical Center, where he and his relatives were taken for treatment. "Then suddenly there was a huge blast, and all our surroundings were destroyed. There were bodies everywhere."
The extremist organization Islamic Jihad said in calls to wire services that it was behind the attack and identified the bomber as Hanadi Jaradat, 29, a law school graduate from the West Bank city of Jenin whose brother and another relative -- both Islamic Jihad members -- were killed by the Israeli army in June. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Jaradat apparently entered the country somewhere between the town of Baqa el-Garbiyeh, which is inside Israel, and Baqa esh-Sharkiya, a neighboring town in the West Bank where the security barrier Israel is building is not yet completed.
President Bush condemned what he called a "vicious act of terrorism" and said it underscored the need for Palestinians "to fight terror, which remains the foremost obstacle to achieving the vision of two states living side by side in peace and stability."
The Palestinian leadership "must dedicate itself to dismantling the infrastructure of terror and preventing the kind of murderous actions that we witnessed today," Bush said in a written statement.
Unlike previous US statements following such attacks, it did not urge Israel to consider the consequences of its actions on the peace process.
The prime minister-designate of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Qurei, condemned the bombing as "an ugly operation against civilians, Arabs and Jews, in Haifa."
"I appeal to the Palestinian people and all Palestinian factions to practice self-restraint and completely halt these attacks, which distort the struggle of the unarmed Palestinian people," Qurei said. "I appeal to the government of Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinian people, confiscating land, hunting its cadres and leaders."
Pierre Matar, 29, of Haifa, an Israeli Arab Christian who is related to the restaurant's owners, said he came to Maxim at about 12:30 p.m. to bring his father, who works there, a more comfortable pair of shoes.
"He changed, and I sat with a few regulars. . . . Everything was normal," Matar said. "Then there was a huge blast, and the place was filled with smoke.
"I was looking for my dad and refused to leave before I found him," he said. "They had to drag me out with force. . . . I still don't know how he is doing."
He said he could not believe such an attack could happen at the restaurant. "We are Christians and have Jewish partners. We will go back to the place; this is clear."
Maxim, on the Mediterranean shore next to the main north-south railway in Israel's third-largest city, is owned by an Arab family in partnership with a Jewish one.
Eliezer Sandberg, Israel's minister of science and a resident of Haifa, was at the scene minutes after the blast. "I live in a reality, in a city, where coexistence is a daily matter, and it works," he said. "When you see the EMS people pulling out bodies, your gut screams revenge, but your head calls for level-headed coolness."But Sandberg said Arafat "has to be dealt with." "In Israel and the Palestinian Authority territories, there are 9 million people, and most of them want to live in peace, but Arafat won't let them," he said. "As long as he lives, there will be no peace."
In a statement released through WAFA, the Palestinian Authority-controlled news agency, Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian leadership said they denounced the bombing "whose victims were Israeli and Arab civilians, especially that it was [carried out] on the eve" of Yom Kippur.
"We call on the government of Israel to withdraw from our Palestinian land and accept immediately international monitors and enable the Palestinian security forces to bear its security obligations in all the territories that Israeli has reoccupied," the statement said.
Abdel Fattah Hamayel, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and minister in the reformist government ousted by Arafat a month ago, said: "For sure, there will be negative repercussions" from the bombing. "There are Arab and Jewish victims, who live together in Haifa," he said. "This is completely unacceptable. This will give [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon a green light to carry out revenge and more revenge."
Charles A. Radin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.