JERUSALEM (AP) – A former Palestinian policeman blew himself up in the heart of Jerusalem’s shopping district yesterday, killing three Israelis, wounding more than 60 people and prompting Israel to call off a round of U.S.-brokered truce talks.

Charles Goddeeris
A woman screams for help as soldiers tend to a victim of a bomb blast in a main shopping area in Jerusalem.

Moments after the late afternoon blast, the dead and injured lay on a blood-splattered pavement on King George Street, amid glass shards and twisted awnings from a hat boutique, a shoe store and a candy shop. A policeman screamed for help. Passers-by knelt over a wounded young boy. More than 60 people were injured.

The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which came a day after an Islamic militant set off explosions on a crowded bus in northern Israel, killing himself and seven others.

In Washington, the Bush administration said it is taking steps to declare the Al Aqsa group a terror organization. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Arafat and demanded that he denounce the bombing, spokesman Philip Reeker said. Later, Powell called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the state department said. Sharon’s office said Powell expressed condolences.

In a rare step, Arafat personally condemned the bombing and promised to take immediate steps to prevent such attacks.

But President Bush said he was “disappointed” by Arafat’s response to calls for an end to attacks on Israel. “We’ve set some strong conditions,” Bush said. “We expect Mr. Arafat to meet those conditions.”

Yesterday night’s scheduled talks between Israeli and Palestinian security officials were called off – by Israel, the Palestinians said – and it was not clear whether the meeting would resume.

U.S. truce negotiator Anthony Zinni met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and senior Cabinet ministers late yesterday in an apparent effort to rescue his mission.

Israel held Arafat directly responsible. In a veiled warning that retaliation might be forthcoming, a statement from Sharon’s office said, “Israel cannot continue for long a unilateral effort” to enforce a cease-fire.

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