One dead in Israel van explosion

Thursday, March 01, 2001
One person has died and nine others have been injured after a bomb exploded in a taxi van in northern Israel.

Police believe a suspected Palestinian militant in the van, who had been trailed by officers for 35 miles before the explosion, is responsible.

Three more of the victims are in a serious condition after the explosion shortly after 2pm local time near the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahem. No one has claimed responsibility.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is responsible, saying he enabled such attacks by refusing to act against the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

He said: "As long as activists of Hamas and the Jihad are walking around free in the West Bank and Gaza, the responsibility is of those who let them walk around freely.

"We see the Palestinian Authority as responsible for the situation."

Witness Ilan Zvuluni said he was a few carlengths behind the taxi van. "I saw wounded people lying on road, a boy among them."

Bentsi Saar, police commander of northern Israel, said: "Those sitting in the van, probably terrorists, set off the explosive device."

It is not clear, however, how many of the people in the van were involved in an intended attack.

In recent weeks, Israel has been on heightened alert for bomb attacks by Islamic militants. During the past five months of violence, Palestinian militants have set off several car bombs inside Israel, killing several people and wounding dozens.