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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suicide Bomber Kills 12 at Tel Aviv Mall

TEL AVIV, Israel -- A Moslem militant blew himself up in the heart of Tel Aviv, killing at least 12 people, wounding more than 100 and striking what may be the final blow to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The blast turned the bustling street outside Tel Aviv's largest shopping center into a nightmare jumble of shattered bodies and wrecked cars. Among the dead and wounded were children dressed in costumes to celebrate the joyous Jewish holiday of Purim.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the nation will not surrender to terrorism. "Even this time, with all the pain in my heart, we will come out of this stronger," said a grim-faced Peres.

As the government met in emergency session at the heavily guarded Defense Ministry complex a mile away from the bombing site, crowds outside lit bonfires and shouted "We want war!" and "We want revenge!"

The attackers, who seek to destroy the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, appear close to achieving their goal and forcing a change in Israel's policy. Until now, reaction to attacks had been primarily defensive and calculated to preserve the peacemaking.

But after four bombings in the past nine days, Cabinet ministers Monday were calling for strikes into autonomous Palestinian land -- which would violate the accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and badly discredit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat among his people.

In call to Israel Radio, the Moslem militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Monday's bombing. Hamas has also claimed the previous three bombings which killed 44 innocents, in addition to three assailants. shouted "Death to Arabs!" and one man held a sign calling for a "final solution" against them -- paraphrasing the Nazi term for the World War II slaughter of millions of Jews.

Monday's blast went off outside the Dizengoff Center, the largest shopping center in the Mediterranean metropolis that is the financial and cultural center of Israel. According to witnesses, the suicide bomber tried to enter the packed shopping center just after 4 p.m., but appeared to draw the suspicions of policemen stationed at the entrance. He then turned toward a crowd of about 20 people near a row of cash machines and set off the explosive device strapped to his body.

"I suddenly heard an absolutely tremendous explosion, and then a cloud of smoke filled the whole intersection," said an eyewitness in her 30s, who gave her name as Michal. "I saw bodies everywhere, pieces of bodies."

Witness Eli Shurany, 39, said he saw a woman and a young girl, age about 10, who were killed instantly. "There was one girl with the bottom of her leg blown off, her bone sticking out," Shurany said.

An empty baby carriage stood only several meters from where the bomb had gone off. A mother pulled her sobbing daughter away, tears streaking the Purim makeup on the girl's face.

Paramedics lined up the dead on stretchers at the curbside, covering them with blankets. Rescue workers treated the wounded who were sprawled on the street amid the rubble of glass, torn paper and cardboard boxes.

Israeli police said 12 people were killed and 109 wounded, adding that the number of dead was not yet final.

Monday's bombing came four months to the day after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish right-wing extremist, which plunged Israel into gloom but also infused the peace process with unprecedented public support.

The head of Israel's Shin Bet security services, Ami Ayalon, said earlier Monday that hundreds of Palestinians were willing candidates for future suicide bombings. Ayalon made the remarks at a closed-door session of parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee.

An Israeli Cabinet member, Ephraim Sneh, said Israel should go after the militants itself rather than waiting for Arafat to do it. "This is war. We must deal directly with the Hamas terror machine. This is a new type of terror. The most terrible thing is that they attacked on Purim when all the children are out in the heart of Tel Aviv," said Sneh, who is health minister.