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Monday's terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was the most "successful" suicide bombing since Hamas formally took control of the Palestinian Authority and it - at least from Israel's point of view - creates a new situation.
"We now face a Hamas government that not only does not stop terrorism, but condones it, encourages it and gives comfort to its perpetrators," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said, explaining why this attack was different from previous ones.
It pointed out that just two weeks ago PA Interior Minister Said Siam said Palestinian security forces would not interfere with Palestinian strikes against Israel.
"We will not put our sons in prison for political memberships or resisting occupation, because occupation is the reason for the problem," Siam said.
With this type of attitude, the PMO official said, Israel had little choice but to take matters into its own hands and take sustained, harsh steps against the terrorist organizations.
But from the international community's point of view, a senior diplomatic official said, there was nothing dramatically different between Monday's attack and the scores that preceded it. He said there were those who were stressing it was not Hamas that carried out the attack, and that the Islamist movement had continued to respect a truce it declared more than a year ago.
The US condemned Monday's attack, without calling for Israel to show restraint. Other key countries also harshly condemned the attack, but either explicitly called on Israel to show restraint or broadly hinted as much.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement condemning the "heinous terrorist bombing" and said, "The burden of responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks rests with the Palestinian Authority."
He said the US had "noted reactions by several Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, that defend or even applaud these barbaric actions, as we have noted President [Mahmoud] Abbas's swift denunciation of it." "Defense of terrorist acts by officials of the Palestinian cabinet undoubtedly will affect relations between the Palestinian Authority and all states seeking peace in the Middle East," he said.
"A Palestinian government that encourages or tolerates terrorism against innocent men, women and children not only increases violence against the Israelis, but does great harm to the interests of the Palestinian people, ensuring their further isolation," he said.
This was in marked contrast with some of the reactions from European countries and leaders.
For instance, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mikhail Kamynin harshly condemned the attack and called on the PA to counter "anti-Israeli acts, primarily terrorist attacks." At the same time, he called on the Israeli government "to show restraint and composure despite the serious conditions in order to prevent slipping into confrontation."
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw also issued a harsh condemnation of the attack, which he said was "particularly repugnant" because it took place during Pessah. "I would urge restraint on all sides at this difficult time," he said.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana towed a similar line, condemning the attack in the "strongest possible terms" while appealing for "the unofficial truce observed by Hamas to continue" and calling on "all parties to prevent any further descent into a senseless spiral of violence.
"The only solution to the conflict in the Middle East is a negotiated settlement," he said.
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