At least 19 people, including five children, were killed and dozens injured when a female suicide bomber ripped through a restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.
"We confirm that 19 people were killed," national police spokesman Gil Kleiman told AFP, adding that the toll did not include the bomber.
"Five of the victims are known to have been children."
Around 50 people had also been injured in the blast, he said.
The bomber detonated the charge inside the Maxim restaurant, which was filled with people enjoying a late lunch on the Sabbath.
Dozens of ambulances were at the scene, just meters (yards) from a popular beach, as volunteers gathered body parts in line with Jewish tradition.
Some dead could be still seen on the floor of the upmarket restaurant owned by an Arab-Israeli family and which was popular for family gatherings.
The blast went off at around 2:20 pm (1220 GMT) in the harbor city some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Jerusalem which has a large Arab minority.
It was the first suicide attack in Israel since twin bombings by Hamas near Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem on September 9, which left 15 people dead, as well as the bombers.
Two days later the Israeli security cabinet approved the "removal" of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, with one minister later suggesting that Arafat might be assassinated.
Despite a huge international uproar over the decision, Israeli ministers have attributed the lack of suicide attacks since then to the threat against Arafat.
But Israeli Health Minister Dany Naveh said after Saturday's attack that the government should now carry through its threat against Arafat.
"The criminal attack today is certainly the occasion to carry out the decision of the cabinet and remove Arafat," said Naveh, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party.
"It is clear to all of us that this individual is the major obstacle to better days ... we must carry out this decision," he added.
David Baker, an official in Sharon's bureau, said that the Palestinian Authority must take responsibility for the attack for its failure to dismantle the infrastructure of armed factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Arafat himself and the Palestinian leadership "vigorously condemned" the attack, in a statement published by the official Wafa news agency.
Palestinian prime minister-designate Ahmed Qorei also issued a condemnation and urged all Palestinian groups to stop targeting civilians. But he also called on the Israeli government to halt its confiscation of Palestinian land.
Israel announced on Wednesday that it would push ahead with the next stage of a separation barrier that at times cuts deep into Palestinian land in the West Bank. On Thursday, it unveiled plans for hundreds more homes in West Bank settlements.
Qorei said: "We ask all Palestinian factions, national and Islamic, to immediately stop these operations targeting civilians which have a negative impact on the Palestinian cause."
Sharon on Monday warned that authorities would be on their guard this weekend for any attack, and even refused to rule out a surprise military ambush against the Israeli army similar to the one launched by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur in 1973.
"There is a willingness to attack us. I don't want to say that we wouldn't be surprised, only that we have to be prudent," he said.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "outraged by the latest terrorist horror in Israel," while it was also condemned by the European Union.
Meanwhile, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, was killed Saturday during an Israeli operation in the northern West Bank in which a nine-year-old boy was also shot dead.
The adult victim was named as Sirhan Sirhan, whom the Israelis said was behind an attack on a kibbutz in northern Israel 11 months ago which left five people dead.
The nine-year-old boy was shot in the chest when Israeli forces opened fire on a group of Brigades members in the Tulkarem camp, Palestinian sources said.
Copyright 2003 AFP