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Whitehouse debates cutting arafat ties

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White House debating Arafat strategy

Suicide bomber strikes Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) --President Bush met
with his national security team Friday to
discuss potential sanctions against or an
outright break of ties with the Palestinian
Authority, amid concern over what it
considers a lackluster response to recent
demands that the authority do more to crack
down on terrorism, sources tell CNN.

Meanwhile, the violent upsurge in the Mideast
continued today, when a suicide bomber wounded
at least 22 people, two of them seriously, when he
set off an explosive device near the old bus station
in Tel Aviv.

Vice President Dick Cheney is said to favor
cutting off contact with Arafat, while Secretary of
State Colin Powell is said to favor keeping some
form of contact.

"There is a creative debate going on about what is
the best way to proceed," one senior official said
about the senior-level discussions.

The debate follows mounting violence in the
region and growing international pressure on
Arafat to crack down on militants, as well as the
interception of the weapons-laden ship Karine-A
earlier this month.

Israel Radio reported the Bush administration has
provided a number of Arab nations with proof that
the Palestinian Authority was involved in
attempting to smuggle 50 tons of arms into the
Palestinian territories on the ship, which was
intercepted by Israel.

Options under consideration include "putting a lot
more pressure on Arafat to actually cutting off
contact with the Palestinian Authority," a senior
administration official said. "But for now we are
still looking to work with Arafat if he is looking to
do the things he needs to do."

Powell believes that there would be "nothing to
gain," by cutting ties with Arafat and that U.S.
allies in Europe and the Arab world would not
stand for such a move, one senior official said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
office said late Thursday that he has accepted an
invitation from President Bush to meet with him in
the United States in two weeks.

Two seriously wounded in Tel Aviv

The Tel Aviv bombing occurred in a crowded
shopping area near the old bus station, city police
said. There was no immediate claim of
responsibility. Eyewitnesses saw the suicide
bomber leaning against a motor scooter shortly
before the explosion.

The Palestinian Authority condemned attacks on
Israeli civilians following the Tel Aviv bombing
but also condemned what it called Israeli

The suicide bombing came just hours after Israeli
troops arrested two Hamas activists in the West
Bank suspected of carrying out terror attacks
against Israeli troops and civilians and shot dead
two other Hamas members during a skirmish in
Gaza. It also came one day after Israel killed
Hamas activist Bakr Hamdan in a missile attack.

Israel said Friday that Hamdan "was personally
responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks carried
out against Israeli civilians and soldiers in the
Gaza" and was killed while he was preparing a
major attack against Israeli targets there.

Palestinian sources told CNN that two other
Palestinians were seriously wounded in the attack,
which took place in the Khan Younis area. The
wounded were identified as Hazem Nashwan and
Hazem Nimer, the son of Hamas leader Ahmad

The IDF said Hamdan "was a part of the Hamas
network which was led in the last year by Salah
Shahada -- a network responsible for most of the
serious terror attacks which took place in the
Gaza" over the last year, including the attack
earlier this month on the outpost near Kerem
Shalom in which four Bedouin soldiers were

"The PA (Palestinian Authority) knew of
Hamdan's activities and even arrested him on
January 10th while he was armed and released
him shortly after that. The PA took no steps to
stop his activity."

Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic group with a
military wing that has carried out terror and
military attacks against Israelis, vowed to avenge
the killing of Hamdan. Israel Radio reported
Hamas also announced it had developed a missile
with a range of 10 kilometers (about 6 miles),
capable of hitting Israeli cities.

Hamas vowed an "all out war" against Israel after
four Palestinians were killed a few days ago
during a raid at a house in Nablus. The IDF said
the four were Hamas bombmakers and the house
was a bomb factory.

Following a recent Israeli attack, Hamas
spokesman Mahmoud Zahhar said, "This is a
terrorist attack by Israel and is part of the
continuous Israeli crimes against the Palestinians."

He said there had been a brief period of calm, but
now "through Israeli provocation and after their
crimes, no one can deny us the right to respond."

In other developments, the IDF said Friday three
rockets were fired at the Erez crossing between
Israel and Gaza. No damage or injuries were

Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket
attack, which sources said involved Qassam 1
rockets. The incident occurred after Israel Radio
reported that Hamas claimed to have rockets
capable of delivering explosive charges 10
kilometers (about six miles), a range that would
allow it to strike many cities in Israel.

Also, Israeli military sources confirmed Friday
that Israeli troops withdrew from the
neighborhood of A-Tira in Ramallah.

Near Bethlehem, the IDF said police arrested 10
Palestinians "suspected of terror activities and
criminal activities against Israeli civilians and IDF

Activists visiting arafat arrested
Arafat goes to bethlehem
Whitehouse debates cutting arafat ties

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