NETANYA, Israel — Just a day before the launch of intensified negotiations aimed at producing a permanent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, three pipe bombs exploded simultaneously in this coastal town Sunday, wounding about 30 Israelis in an attack police blamed on Palestinian militants.
Police and hospital officials said almost all the injuries were minor and that only a handful of victims of the midmorning explosions remained hospitalized by evening. Two people were reported in moderate condition, with the rest set to be released shortly.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but police said that both the timing and the method--similar to that of another recent pipe bombing in Netanya--left little doubt that it was politically motivated, even though the city is also known in Israel as a center for organized crime.
Police said four pipe bombs were placed close together, possibly inside a shopping cart, outside a busy row of stores on Netanya's main street and were set to explode at 10:30 a.m., a peak time for shoppers. Three of the devices went off, but the fourth failed to detonate and was defused, police said.
The property damage was relatively minor despite the large number of injuries: a mangled bicycle, a small hole in a shop wall, a broken street sign, a charred sidewalk.
Police later said they had arrested two Palestinian suspects, and Israel Radio quoted witnesses as saying they were a man and a woman seen in the area just before the bombs were detonated. Police would not confirm any details.
The blasts came against the backdrop of a flurry of activity in the peace process, only a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak joined Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and President Clinton in Oslo to renew their commitment to the negotiations, and barely a week before Israel is due to transfer another chunk of West Bank land to the Palestinians.
Israeli and Palestinian officials condemned the attack but declared that today's meeting of peace negotiators in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank town of Ramallah would proceed as planned.
Barak said he viewed the attack in Netanya "with utmost severity," but he vowed that his government will not capitulate to terrorism as it tries to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians.
"We know there are elements that will try to torpedo the peace process," he told reporters. "They will not succeed. The government and the security services are determined to crush terrorism."
Nonetheless, there were demands Sunday from right-wing lawmakers and some Netanya residents that Barak agree to slow or even stop the negotiations with the Palestinians and do more to combat political violence.
The blasts also came a day after the secretive military wing of the Islamic Hamas movement released a statement threatening to launch a new wave of attacks against Israel. The statement, which was faxed to news agencies in Israel, could not be independently verified.
The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, told reporters gathered at his home in the Gaza Strip on Sunday that he does not supervise the group's military wing and did not know whether it was involved in the blasts.