JERUSALEM, Apr 18 (Reuters) Like other Israeli shoppers, Alon Gonsherovsky felt scared for the first time in months today after a suicide bomber killed nine people in Tel Aviv, the deadliest attack since 2004.
''The bombing was a sudden jolt and we are back to living on the edge again,'' Gonsherovsky, 23, said as he picked out a bag of olives in Jerusalem's crowded Mahane Yehuda market, a frequent target for suicide attacks.
''I am a little scared, but once again we have to cope with terrorist groups blasting their way into our lives.'' It was the first Palestinian bombing inside Israel since militant Islamic group Hamas took power three weeks ago, and shattered a relative lull in violence.
But Israel has stepped up airstrikes and artillery barrages against targets in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, responding to makeshift rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian militants.
The exchanges have further dampened peace prospects.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, stirred up Israeli and Western ire by calling yesterday's suicide bombing by kindred group Islamic Jihad an act of self defence against what a spokesman called ''Israeli crimes against our people''.
''I am a bit more apprehensive than I was,'' shopper Baruch Margalit, 40, said. ''There really is no difference between Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other terrorist group. Anything can happen now.'' After acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a meeting with his top advisers, Israel decided on Tuesday to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the bombing, but not to authorise military action against the Hamas government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the Tel Aviv bombing as another blow to efforts to stem more than five years of bloodshed. He demanded the arrest of those involved.
Hamas, which controls key Palestinian security services, has vowed not to order the arrest of militants carrying out attacks against Israel.
Other militant groups such as Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Abbas's Fatah movement, have also vowed to step up attacks. Abbas has struggled to control gunmen from his own party. Al-Aqsa claimed responsibility for a West bank suicide bombing last month that killed four Israelis.
''DEFEND OURSELVES'' ''It's terrible that the Palestinians do not understand that we want to live in peace and to find solution to our problems by negotiations,'' Israeli Yaron Meir said. ''They don't leave us any choice but to defend ourselves.'' But others felt a stronger military response would not help.
''I doubt tougher military action will stem the tide of terror,'' Amran ben Ayoun, said, sitting in a Jerusalem cafe.
''What we need is real Palestinian leadership willing to stop pointless terror. When the Palestinians hurt us they hurt themselves.'' While some have called for tougher military action, an incursion into Gaza, which Israel quit last year after 38 years of occupation, was not a favoured option at the moment, Israelis said.
''A hysterical military response such as reoccupation (of Gaza) must be avoided,'' commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote in the daily Haaretz.
REUTERS OM BST1729