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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Hit by 5th Blast in 48 Hours

AFULA, Israel -- In the fifth suicide bombing in less than 48 hours, a Palestinian detonated explosives at the entrance to a crowded mall in a working class town in northern Israel on Monday, killing at least three shoppers and wounding 47.

The spate of bombings underscored how difficult it will be to carry out the U.S.-backed "road map" plan, a three-stage prescription for ending violence immediately and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005.

The militant groups Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades both claimed responsibility for the attack at the Shaarei Amakim mall in the town of Afula. The previous four were carried out by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing. "We reject his [suicide attacks] because they harm us politically and morally and don't represent the Palestinian position," Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib said.

The Afula explosion went off at 5:14 p.m. at a back entrance to the mall as shoppers were waiting in line for a security check. The explosion killed the attacker and three shoppers, Borovsky said. Forty-seven people were wounded, including 13 in serious condition.

Afula has been targeted repeatedly by Palestinian militants because of its proximity to the West Bank.

Earlier Monday, a 19-year-old Palestinian riding a bicycle detonated a 30-kilogram bomb near a military jeep in the Gaza Strip, injuring three soldiers.

In response the spate of bombings, Israel threatened to boycott foreign envoys who meet with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Israel holds Arafat responsible for the violence, though most attacks have been carried out by Islamic militants.

"Neutralizing Arafat is something that has to be taken into consideration and given lots of thought," said Raanan Gissin, adviser to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon. "Also it is the responsibility of the Palestinian people and this Palestinian government, if they are committed to peace ... to do whatever they can to neutralize this Chairman Arafat, who has become the big spoiler of any effort to bring peace and hope to the Palestinian people."

Hamas said Monday it has no intention of halting attacks, despite Egypt's efforts to have Palestinian militant groups agree to a one-year suspension of shootings and bombings. In a renewed mediation attempt, Egyptian envoys have been holding meetings in Gaza and Damascus in recent days with leaders of the militant groups. The armed groups say they might agree to a truce if Israel promises to stop hunting militants -- a proposal Sharon has turned down.

A Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, said Monday that "legitimate resistance will continue as long as occupation exists on our holy land."

Israel said there will be no letup in its campaign against those involved in violence. Israel "will continue to fight terror everywhere, at any time and in any way possible," a Cabinet statement said Sunday, after a Hamas suicide bomber killed seven Israelis on a Jerusalem bus earlier in the day.

The ministers also decided to cold-shoulder foreign envoys who meet with Arafat. "Whoever wants to visit Arafat can visit Arafat but he won't be allowed to meet senior Israeli officials," Gissin said. Israel first threatened such a boycott several weeks ago but enforced it only selectively.

The European Union on Monday dismissed the decision and a spokeswoman said EU leaders will continue to involve Arafat in the search for peace.

The new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has denounced violence against Israelis, but also told Sharon in a weekend meeting -- the first Israeli-Palestinian summit in three years -- that he wants to persuade the militants to stop attacks, rather than disarm them by force.

The argument over how to rein in the militants and halt violence has been holding up implementation of the road map. The plan calls for parallel steps in the first stage, including a Palestinian crackdown on militants, an Israeli troop pullback from Palestinian towns and a construction freeze in Jewish settlements.

Sharon insists that the Palestinians make the first move. He was to have discussed his objections with U.S. President George W. Bush this week, but canceled his trip after Sunday's bus bombing. The Palestinians have accepted the plan as is.

The latest wave of attacks began Saturday evening when a Hamas bomber blew himself up in a square in the West Bank city of Hebron, killing an Israeli settler and his pregnant wife. On Sunday morning, another Hamas assailant blew up the Jerusalem bus and about half an hour later, a third bomber from the group detonated explosives on the outskirts of Jerusalem, killing only himself.

Israeli analyst Mark Heller said that "Hamas is trying to ensure that the road map doesn't go anywhere and that Abu Mazen [Abbas] doesn't go anywhere either."