Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, facing growing international pressure to clamp down on militants, convened an emergency Cabinet meeting Wednesday to decide how to respond to a Hamas suicide bombing that killed 20, including five Americans.
Israel, however, decided Wednesday to carry out military strikes against terror suspects regardless of what the Palestinian Authority does, a security official said on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli raids were expected to begin later Wednesday. A column of 13 Israeli tanks was seen lining up outside the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian witnesses said.
The Palestinian Cabinet did not announce a decision after its two-hour session, except to say the rule of law in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be enforced. The final say is up to Yasser Arafat and top PLO officials, who will meet later Wednesday with ministers.
After the Cabinet meeting, Abbas received a phone call from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said "the Palestinian Authority should take immediate measures to stop the deterioration," Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said.
CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton says Abbas is trying to salvage the peace process.
"The whole thing is likely to run off the track, and that's exactly what this attack was intended to do," he said.
Tuesday night's Jerusalem bus blast also wounded more than 100, including about 40 children, returning from the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine. It was the deadliest Palestinian terror attack since the "road map" peace plan was unveiled three months ago by President Bush.
The Palestinian Authority's next move could well determine the fate of the U.S.-backed peace plan.
Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met with Palestinian security commanders in the Gaza Strip, ordering them "to be on high alert to implement whatever decision will be taken by the political leadership and the Palestinian Authority against those who were involved in yesterday's attack in Jerusalem," spokesman Elias Zananiri said.
Abbas, who could lose his job if violence persists, has said he will not confront the militants — as required by the peace plan — because he fears internal fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top defense officials decided Wednesday to give Dahlan time to begin cracking down on the militants, a security official said on condition of anonymity.
Security officials decided against targeting Arafat, the defense official said. In the past, troops have besieged Arafat's West Bank headquarters.
Bush called Sharon on Wednesday, said Israel's vice premier, Ehud Olmert.
Abbas was meeting with Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza City on Tuesday when he learned of the bombing. Condemning the attack as a "terrible crime," Abbas also broke off contact with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, called off upcoming trips to Italy and Norway, and convened the emergency Cabinet meeting.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Abbas "to take decisive action to arrest the instigators of this attack and prevent such attacks from happening again," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Minister for Negotiations with Israel, said, "We have decided to boycott Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and at the same time the Palestinian leadership has instructed the Palestinian cabinet and the Palestinian security services to take all necessary measures in order to preserve the Palestinian national interests."
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas leaders insisted Wednesday they remain committed to a three-month truce they and other militants declared unilaterally on June 29, but said they reserve the right to revenge the killings of operatives by Israeli troops.
There were indications that the bomber, disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, tried to settle a personal score with the attack. The assailant, 29-year-old mosque preacher Raed Mesk from the West Bank city of Hebron, was friends with an Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron, Mohammed Sidr, who was killed by troops last week.
In the meantime, Israel froze all contacts with the Palestinian Authority and canceled the planned handover of two West Bank towns to Palestinian control, a move that was expected later this week. The Israeli army also closed border crossings to seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat criticized Israel's decision, saying it was important to maintain contacts.
"The main message I want to send to the Americans is that ... every possible effort should be exerted to keep the road map and the truce alive," he said.
The suicide bomber detonated the explosives in the center of a tandem bus, which has two passenger sections, shortly after 9 p.m. on a main thoroughfare.
Five of those killed were American citizens, a U.S. Embassy official said Wednesday.
They included Mordechai Reinitz, 47, and his son, Yitzhak, 18, who lived in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya and had dual Israeli-American citizenship, embassy spokesman Paul Patin said. Their U.S. hometown was not immediately known.
Goldie Zarkowski, 43, and her 3-month-old son, Ely, who were visiting from New Square, N.Y., also were killed, Patin said. Zarkowski was the mother of 13, said New York State Assemblyman Ryan Karben, whose district includes New Square.
The fifth American victim was identified as Tihilla Nathanson, 3, from Monsey, N.Y.
Zvi Weiss, an 18-year-old seminary student from New York, was sitting in the front of the bus and escaped unharmed.
"The bomb went off at the back of the bus. Everything went black. I climbed out of the broken window and started running. All around me there were people covered in blood, screaming, some with limbs missing," Weiss said.
The bomb was packed with bits of metal for greater deadliness, police said.
The blast, just across from a synagogue, blew a hole in the bus roof and shattered the windows of a passing bus.
In an Israeli prison, Palestinian security prisoners applauded and passed out candy when they learned of the bombing, the Israel Prisons Authority said. Inmate leaders were sent into isolation and the rest had their TV sets removed as punishment, the authority said.
Since the intefadeh began in September 2000, more than 2,400 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 800 on the Israeli side.