JERUSALEM, JULY 9 -- Israel has given U.S. officials intelligence evidence indicating that a pipe-bomb attack that killed one person and injured nine at a Jerusalem vegetable market May 28 was the work of a Palestine Liberation Organization military unit, official sources here said today.
Israeli sources said the information showed that the attack was carried out by Palestinians affiliated with Force 17, an elite squad organized by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's centrist Fatah Movement, and suggests that the mainstream PLO was involved in an attack on Israeli civilians prior to the abortive speedboat assault on the Israeli coast by a PLO splinter group two days later. The PLO denied ordering the seaborne attack but refused to condemn it, leading the United States to suspend political dialogue with the Palestinian organization.
U.S. officials refused to comment on the Israeli account. In the past, American and Israeli officials have differed sharply in interpreting attacks by Palestinian groups, with Washington often dismissing Israeli claims of PLO involvement as unfounded or inconclusive.
Israeli authorities arrested several Palestinians following the market bombing but have never charged anyone in connection with it. Neither the PLO nor its Force 17, headed by Abu Tayed, has acknowledged any role in the blast.
But according to Israeli intelligence data -- which sources said has been closely guarded to protect informants -- the bombing was carried out by Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories on instructions received from abroad. According to the Israeli account, the instructions were probably delivered through a Force 17 operative in Amman, Jordan. Like most PLO leaders, Force 17 chief Tayed is based in Tunis.
U.S. officials were informed of the Israeli information before President Bush announced his decision to suspend dialogue with the PLO June 20, sources here said. The sources said Israel was told that U.S. officials had discussed the bombing with the PLO and suggested that the incident may have played a role in Bush's decision.
In the case of the May 30 speedboat attack, which was openly authored by the PLO-affiliated Palestine Liberation Front, Washington demanded that the PLO denounce the incident and take action against PLF leader Abul Abbas. The dialogue was suspended when the PLO failed to act. No Israelis were killed in the attack, but Israeli forces killed four Palestinian guerrillas aboard the speedboats and captured 12.
Like the coastal attack, the bombing in Jerusalem two days earlier was believed intended as vengeance for the May 20 slaying of seven Palestinian workers by an Israeli gunman in a Tel Aviv suburb. Immediately following the blast, Western news services and Israeli television reported claims of responsibility by the Islamic Jihad organization and by Fatah Uprising, a small non-PLO splinter group.
Force 17 was originally set up as Arafat's personal bodyguard, and branches operate in several Arab countries as well as in the occupied West Bank. The group has been portrayed as a hard-line element within Fatah and reportedly has pressed in recent years for a renewal of armed attacks against Israel.
Arafat renounced terrorism against Israel and recognized the Jewish state's right to exist in November 1988, prompting the United States to open the political dialogue. Various radical PLO factions have since continued to carry out attacks from Lebanon against Israeli military targets, and Arafat's Fatah faction was accused by Israel of staging a raid from Egypt into Israel in December of last year.
However, the marketplace bombing represents the first time since 1988 that an Israeli civilian was killed in an attack blamed by Israel on the PLO.