A Series of Suicide Attacks Rocks Israel

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Israeli police run to evacuate the site of the car bombing

Ben Yehuda street is one of Jerusalem's best known and well-traversed thoroughfares, a pedestrian mall where teenagers and soldiers on leave like to gather. But late Saturday night, at approximately 11:40 p.m., two blasts turned it into an abattoir of human limbs, blood and wreckage. "We heard a huge blast and then another one," said one off-duty police official on the scene. "We saw a lot of smoke. People were lying on the street. People were screaming and a lot of people were running from the place of the explosions.

Two suicide bombers, standing some 120 feet apart, had ignited their deadly baggage, sending nails and screws into the crowd. "The police came and the rescues forces came in a few minutes," the off-duty cop told TIME. But 20 minutes after the initial blasts, as police and ambulance attended to the dead and injured, a third blast blew up a car parked 300 feet north of Ben Yehuda. That explosion, which some witnesses believe was meant as a kind of coup de grace, injured only one person. But the first two had a huge toll, at least eight dead and 180 injured. On Thursday, another bomb attack had killed three people. The Israeli Minister of Defense announced that he will conduct a meeting with the heads of army and security forces to decide how the country will respond to the latest suicide attacks.

Twelve hours later, in the northern city of Haifa, another bomb ripped through a city passenger bus, killing 16 people and wounding many others. The Palestinian group Hamas has allegedly claimed responsibility for all of the attacks.

The attacks can only complicate the mission of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's new Middle East envoy, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who was on his first trip to the region last week. He has already had tough talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is meeting with President George Bush on Monday. Already Zinni is getting little support from his American compatriots. Some Bush Administration hard-liners have told TIME's Massimo Calabresi that they are worried Zinni and the State Department will pressure Israel to make concessions to P.L.O. leader Yasser Arafat. For his part, Arafat called an emergency meeting of his leadership on Sunday, and a spokesman said that they were planning to make an "urgent" decision. On Sunday morning, Powell called for Arafat to arrest and imprison those resoponsible for the suicide bombings.