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Terror grabs hold of Israel // Angry Israeli protesters shout: "we want revenge!'

Terror struck the young this time. Near a suicide bomber's ground zero: at least one dead child, scores of injured youngsters, an empty baby carriage and a single tiny shoe left behind.

In a scene horrible and yet now familiar, someone willing to kill himself for a cause shattered a Jewish holiday scene of children and parents at the mall and plunged it into a war zone of blood and smoke by detonating a handbag filled with 25 pounds of explosives in the heart of Tel Aviv Monday.

The blast blew up the bomber and killed more than a dozen others. It injured more than 130.

In the aftermath, several dazed children wandered about, still wearing costumes for the holiday of Purim, looking for family. One child named Ayal went on the Voice of Israel after telephone service had broken down and told his father, David, that he couldn't find his grandmother. He was so young that he didn't know his last name.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, as it did for three others in the last nine days. But this was a new, insidious wrinkle to terror, sending an anonymous killer on foot to mix with parents and children on a holiday under a big neon billboard advertising McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

The bomber struck as hundreds of people, many of them children in costume, thronged the most popular mall in the heart of Tel Aviv in preparation for the carnival-like festival of Purim, celebrating the saving of the Jews of Persia 2,500 years ago from an edict ordering their extinction.

"It is Purim, where mothers come to the mall with children in their costumes," said Health Minister Efraim Sneh. "It's no coincidence that they came to this spot."

The attack left a jumble of shattered bodies and wrecked cars and paralyzed the peace effort.

A mounting toll of dead and wounded, the repeated scenes of carnage and the despair of victims' families tapped a deep vein of anger among Israelis. It was the fourth suicide bomb attack in nine days.

In short, it was the deadliest stretch of terror in Israel's history.

The scene Monday was far different than the recent bus bombings. It was in the open amid a glass-walled canyon of high-end boutiques, and it left behind so much fallen glass that workers filled the beds of five pickup trucks and two dump trucks.

But it could have been even worse. Before exploding the bomb, the bomber had tried to enter the shopping center but appeared to draw the suspicions of police officers stationed at the entrance, according to witnesses. He then turned away toward a crowd of 20 people around a row of cash machines and detonated the explosive device.

The Israeli government decided in an emergency session to form a special anti-terrorism task force with sweeping powers, led by the head of the Shin Bet security service, Ami Ayalon.

A weary and grim Prime Minister Shimon Peres ordered the closure of any Palestinian institution with links to Hamas and closure between the Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and those communities overseen by the Israeli army.

"It is a type of terrorism that requires special means," Peres said. "I have been asked where we will operate. My answer is everywhere. I have been asked if we shall break the law. One law we shall not break: the law of national and personal safety in the state of Israel. It is legal for a nation to defend itself."

Military strikes in PLO-ruled areas would violate the Israel-PLO accords and discredit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat among his people.

A furious, wildly militant mood swept over Tel Aviv, a city known for its generally moderate populace that supports peacemaking with Palestinians and Arabs.

As government ministers met at the heavily guarded Defense Ministry complex a mile from the bombing site, crowds outside lit bonfires and shouted "We want war!" and "We want revenge!"

In a call to Israel Radio, the Muslim militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Monday's bombing. Hamas has also said it was behind the previous three bombings, which killed 47, including the suicide bombers themselves.

Faced with the possible collapse of his three-year peace gamble, Arafat said he was ready to cooperate fully with Israel in going after Palestinian militants. But he added that he hoped Israel would not act hastily and break off peace talks.

"I hope that we will not reward these terrorists," Arafat told reporters in Gaza City.

Later Monday, Palestinian security forces announced the arrest of the man they called the "mastermind" of three of the last four suicide bombings in Israel: Mohammed Abu Wardeh, 28, of the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Brig. Zakariya Baloushi, deputy chief of Palestinian intelligence, said Abu Wardeh apparently received instructions via coded messages from abroad, and Israel TV said his handlers were based in Damascus.

Monday's blast went off just after 4 p.m. outside the Dizengoff Center, the largest shopping center in the Mediterranean metropolis that is the financial and cultural center of Israel.

The force of the blast was so great that it left hundreds of teeth-like marks in the asphalt on the middle of Dizengoff Street, only a few blocks from the site of the deadly October 1994 bus bombing.

The force sent victims through the air.

Eli Shurany, 39, said he saw a woman and a young girl, about 10 years old, who were killed instantly. "There was one girl with the bottom of her leg blown off, her bone sticking out," Shurany said.

An empty baby carriage stood only yards from where the bomb had gone off. A mother pulled her sobbing daughter away, tears streaking the Purim makeup on the girl's face.

Many Purim celebrations had been canceled anyway, due to Sunday's bus bombing in Jerusalem.

Monday's bombing came four months to the day after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by a Jewish right-wing extremist, which plunged Israel into gloom but also infused the peace process with unprecedented public support.

Four bombings have changed things.

With three months to go until the May 29 elections, Peres' lead in the polls has been wiped out. The right-ring opposition, whose leaders seek to salvage what they can of Israel's control over the West Bank and Gaza despite the establishment of Palestinian autonomy, appear headed for victory.

For a Peres win, he needs help from Arafat, he needs no more bombings and he needs a strong security strategy.

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, said the bombings have belied the basic premise of the Peres government _ that giving the Palestinians control of West Bank and Gaza land will lead to more security for both sides.

"Our mistake was in believing that we can hire a subcontractor, Arafat, and he will take care of (security)," Netanyahu said. "We must take matters into our own hands."

Reuven Gal, former chief psychologist of the Israel Defense Forces, worries that Israelis will feel so insecure they will consider leaving the country or lash out indiscriminately.

"It's so different from anything else that we've been confronted with in the past," Gal said. "War is one story. Being hit in the center of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by an unidentified enemy is another."

Ayalon, the head of Shin Bet, told a parliamentary committee Monday that hundreds of Palestinians were willing candidates for future suicide bombings.

Israel's Channel 2 TV said several Cabinet officials supported sending troops into the autonomous Gaza Strip to root out militants. Those officials included Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, a former army chief, and even dovish ministers like Yossi Beilin, a leading peace architect.

"This is war. We must deal directly with the Hamas terror machine," said Health Minister Sneh. "This is a new type of terror."

_ Information from the Knight-Ridder News Service and Reuters was used in this report.