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Taxi bomb kills one, hurts 9 in north Israel

Suspect loses both legs when the blast destroys his van

MEI AMI, Israel — A suspected Palestinian militant set off explosives in a taxi van Thursday after the vehicle was stopped at a police roadblock and an officer asked passengers to show identification. An Israeli man was killed and nine other people were wounded, police said.

Police said they had been searching for the suspect after receiving information that he was at large in northern Israel, possibly with explosives, and that several surprise checkpoints were set up in the area.

The suspect — according to police a resident of the West Bank town of Jenin — reportedly activated the explosives with a cell phone. He lost both legs and was taken into custody, media reports said.

The explosion near the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahem came only a day after police safely detonated a bomb in Tel Aviv left in a plastic bag. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak said there was a connection between the thwarted Tel Aviv attack and Thursday's explosion.

Police said an Israeli man was killed and nine others wounded, including seven passengers of the taxi.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

During the past five months of violence, Palestinian militants have set off several car bombs inside Israel, killing several people and wounding dozens. Overall, 411 people have been killed, including 339 Palestinians, 57 Israelis and 15 others.

On the political front, Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres on Thursday became the Labor Party's unopposed choice for foreign minister, virtually assuring him the job in Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's hard-line government.

It is not clear to what extent Peres, a former prime minister and leading proponent of a peace deal with the Palestinians, will be able to shape policy in a Cabinet led by the hawkish Sharon and including hardline ministers.

Sharon has said his top priority is restoring a sense of security to Israelis, and that peace talks will resume only after Palestinians stop all violence.

Peres dismissed criticism by Labor Party doves that Sharon, a tough former general, is using him to give his government a moderate image, without actually trying to move peace efforts forward.

"I do not feel I have the qualities of a fig leaf," Peres said.

Sharon has already promised the post to Labor, in addition to the defense portfolio, the agriculture ministry and five other Cabinet seats.

The transition in the Defense Ministry comes at a time when debate in the army is intensifying on how to contain Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Sneh, the deputy defense minister, has said he is in favor of more frequent operations by elite special forces against Palestinians responsible for the shootings and bomb attacks.

For a long time the army has had a contingency plan to reoccupy the Palestinian cities.

Security sources said that although the army could do so without apparent difficulty, Israel's military intelligence is categorically opposed to such a plan because of the renewed friction with the Palestinian population that would follow.

Instead, military intelligence favors concerted pressure on the Palestinian Authority by economic as well as military means and by attempting to enlist international pressure on the Palestinians to reduce the violence, said the sources.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, reacted angrily to accusations by Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz that the Palestinian Authority was becoming a "terrorist entity."

Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub accused Mofaz of trying to build a political future at the expense of the Palestinians. "He should know that the worst kind of terrorism and violence is the occupation," Rajoub said.