Israelis react to bombing

Israel clamped an open-ended closure on the West Bank and Gaza Tuesday, banning virtually all Palestinians from Israel, and arrested at least 15 Palestinian militants in a first response to a suicide bombing that killed five Israelis outside a shopping mall.

Israeli officials also said the army would target Islamic Jihad operatives in the West Bank, both through arrest raids and targeted killings of operatives, and renew airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in response to any Palestinian rocket attacks.

"We decided to operate in a much broader, much deeper and more intensive manner against the Islamic Jihad infrastructure, and I hope that we will be able to prevent such attacks in the future," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told after a late-night meeting of security officials.

The army said the 15 arrests took place throughout the West Bank, with eight Islamic Jihad members rounded up in Tulkarem, near the village of Monday's bomber. The bomber's father and brother were among the arrests.

The attack in the coastal city of Netanya was the fifth since Israel and the Palestinians forged a cease-fire in February. Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for all of them, saying its attacks are in response to Israeli violations of the truce.

The closure, which the army said would remain in effect indefinitely, prevented thousands of Palestinian merchants and laborers from reaching jobs in Israel, dealing a tough blow to the feeble Palestinian economy.

Gaza's main cargo crossing, however, remained open.

Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians rein in militants as a condition for restarting peace talks. But so far Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has preferred to seek dialogue with the armed groups, fearing confrontation could set off a civil war.

Palestinian security forces arrested 13 Islamic Jihad members Tuesday in the West Bank, said Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry. He said the suspects were being interrogated, but gave no further information.

The arrests came after a call by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the Palestinians to take action against militants.

With Palestinian legislative elections scheduled next month, a large-scale crackdown at the behest of Israel appears unlikely because it would weaken Abbas' Fatah movement, which faces a tough challenge from the larger Islamic group Hamas.

The Jan. 25 election could also temper the Israeli response, since violence could make Fatah appear ineffective and bolster Hamas.

The bombing could also reverberate in Israel, which is holding general elections in March, reports the AP.


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