Israeli coastal town of Netanya, local reports said early Thursday. More than 100 others were listed as wounded by the blast, which the Israeli Government described as the "Passover massacre."
Eye-witnesses said the explosion ripped through the sea-side hotel north of Tel Aviv as scores of guests were waiting to enter a dining hall for the ritual meal Seder that marks the start of the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover.
Christians, many of whom stayed away for security fears, believe the annual Jewish Seder was Jesus’ Last Supper, and the reason why Easter and Passover are so close.
Israeli television showed police and ambulances streaming to the site of the attack, for which the Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility. Bloodied blast victims staggered out of the wrecked building where the explosion reportedly blew out walls on the ground floor and almost completely destroyed the hotel lobby.
"Morally repugnant," was how United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the attack, which came only one month after Palestinian militants killed in the same area an Israeli woman and an Arab-Israeli before they themselves were killed by police, the Voice of America (VOA) said.
The office of Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s said the "Passover massacre" made clear that the Palestinian leadership had no intention of reaching a United States.-backed cease-fire, aimed at ending 18 months of escalating fighting in the troubled region.
Sharon advisers suggested they were not impressed by the Palestinian Liberation Authority’s condemnation of the bomb blast, and said the Israeli Prime Minister was discussing a possible response.
It was not immediately clear if and when there would be a Israeli military revenge attack, apparently not to upset Arab leaders who resumed their summit Thursday in Beirut, Lebanon, in the hope of reaching a consensus on a Saudi land-for-peace initiative for Israel.
US President George W. Bush described the suicide bombing in Netanya as a "callous and cold-blooded killing" and urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "do everything in his power to stop terrorist killing."
American Secretary of State, Colin Powell urged Arafat late Wednesday to go on radio and television to tell the Palestinians "that anti-Israeli violence must stop," VOA reported.
The "Passover massacre" underscored fear among Jews about what many see as a dramatic increase in suicide bomb attacks, despite Prime Minister Sharon’s pledge to increase security.
Two days before the attack Writer William Safire suggested that the youngest child appears less inclined to ask the Four Questions that examine the ancient Israelites’ flight to freedom during the annual Seder meal.
"In Israel this week, however, the first question on a child’s mind is more personal: "Will I be able to board a school bus without being blown up by a suicide bomber?", he wrote Monday, march 25, in the New York Times newspaper.