White House debating Arafat strategy
Suicide bomber strikes Tel Aviv
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- President Bush met with his national security team Friday to discuss potential sanctions against or an outright break of ties with the Palestinian Authority, amid concern over what it considers a lackluster response to recent demands that the authority do more to crack down on terrorism, sources tell CNN.
Meanwhile, the violent upsurge in the Mideast continued today, when a suicide bomber wounded at least 22 people, two of them seriously, when he set off an explosive device near the old bus station in Tel Aviv.
Vice President Dick Cheney is said to favor cutting off contact with Arafat, while Secretary of State Colin Powell is said to favor keeping some form of contact.
"There is a creative debate going on about what is the best way to proceed," one senior official said about the senior-level discussions.
The debate follows mounting violence in the region and growing international pressure on Arafat to crack down on militants, as well as the interception of the weapons-laden ship Karine-A earlier this month.
Israel Radio reported the Bush administration has provided a number of Arab nations with proof that the Palestinian Authority was involved in attempting to smuggle 50 tons of arms into the Palestinian territories on the ship, which was intercepted by Israel.
Options under consideration include "putting a lot more pressure on Arafat to actually cutting off contact with the Palestinian Authority," a senior administration official said. "But for now we are still looking to work with Arafat if he is looking to do the things he needs to do."
Powell believes that there would be "nothing to gain," by cutting ties with Arafat and that U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world would not stand for such a move, one senior official said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said late Thursday that he has accepted an invitation from President Bush to meet with him in the United States in two weeks.
Two seriously wounded in Tel Aviv attack
The Tel Aviv bombing occurred in a crowded shopping area near the old bus station, city police said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Eyewitnesses saw the suicide bomber leaning against a motor scooter shortly before the explosion.
The Palestinian Authority condemned attacks on Israeli civilians following the Tel Aviv bombing but also condemned what it called Israeli assassinations.
The suicide bombing came just hours after Israeli troops arrested two Hamas activists in the West Bank suspected of carrying out terror attacks against Israeli troops and civilians and shot dead two other Hamas members during a skirmish in Gaza. It also came one day after Israel killed Hamas activist Bakr Hamdan in a missile attack.
Israel said Friday that Hamdan "was personally responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks carried out against Israeli civilians and soldiers in the Gaza" and was killed while he was preparing a major attack against Israeli targets there.
Palestinian sources told CNN that two other Palestinians were seriously wounded in the attack, which took place in the Khan Younis area. The wounded were identified as Hazem Nashwan and Hazem Nimer, the son of Hamas leader Ahmad Nimer.
The IDF said Hamdan "was a part of the Hamas network which was led in the last year by Salah Shahada -- a network responsible for most of the serious terror attacks which took place in the Gaza" over the last year, including the attack earlier this month on the outpost near Kerem Shalom in which four Bedouin soldiers were killed.
"The PA (Palestinian Authority) knew of Hamdan's activities and even arrested him on January 10th while he was armed and released him shortly after that. The PA took no steps to stop his activity."
Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic group with a military wing that has carried out terror and military attacks against Israelis, vowed to avenge the killing of Hamdan. Israel Radio reported Hamas also announced it had developed a missile with a range of 10 kilometers (about 6 miles), capable of hitting Israeli cities.
Hamas vowed an "all out war" against Israel after four Palestinians were killed a few days ago during a raid at a house in Nablus. The IDF said the four were Hamas bombmakers and the house was a bomb factory.
Following a recent Israeli attack, Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahhar said, "This is a terrorist attack by Israel and is part of the continuous Israeli crimes against the Palestinians."
He said there had been a brief period of calm, but now "through Israeli provocation and after their crimes, no one can deny us the right to respond."
In other developments, the IDF said Friday three rockets were fired at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. No damage or injuries were reported.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, which sources said involved Qassam 1 rockets. The incident occurred after Israel Radio reported that Hamas claimed to have rockets capable of delivering explosive charges 10 kilometers (about six miles), a range that would allow it to strike many cities in Israel.
Also, Israeli military sources confirmed Friday that Israeli troops withdrew from the neighborhood of A-Tira in Ramallah.
Near Bethlehem, the IDF said police arrested 10 Palestinians "suspected of terror activities and criminal activities against Israeli civilians and IDF forces."
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