Suicide Bomber Kills 15 While Bush, Sharon Meet First responder at the scene of the attack in Rishon L’Tzion. Photo: AP/Karel Prinsloo

May 7, 2002

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon flies home to Israel, cutting short a visit to the United States, after a suicide bomber kills 15 Israelis and wounds 55 others in a pool hall in Rishon LeZion at the same time Sharon is meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House.

Sharon blames Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the bombing, although Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, says Arafat and the PA condemn the attack “in the strongest possible terms.” Hamas subsequently claims credit for the bombing.

The deadly attack presents the latest obstacle to peace talks amid the Second Intifada. Since Israel launched a West Bank offensive in March after a series of attacks during Passover, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have unleashed even more suicide bombings. Before leaving Washington, Sharon says the military offensive has made progress but has left work to do. He adds, “All those who believe that they can make gains through the use of terror will cease to exist.”

Before learning the details of the bombing, Bush and Sharon tell reporters that their meeting has made progress toward restarting the peace process. They discuss a Sharon plan that calls for a multinational peace conference to institute interim agreements toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. Presented on the third anniversary of the day that Israel and the PA were supposed to complete final-status negotiations under the Oslo Accords, the proposal also includes physical barriers to separate the Israelis and Palestinians. Bush announces that he will send CIA Director George Tenet to the Middle East to help the Palestinians establish a transparent, accountable security force that can counter terrorism.