JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian suicide attacker blew himself up Monday while grappling with an Israeli security guard at a shopping mall in a Tel Aviv suburb, killing the guard and another civilian and wounding 12 other people, including two infants.
The bombing -- the 81st by Palestinian militants in two years -- marked a first test for Israel's new defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, who was sworn in Monday. Mofaz is known for his hawkish views and is an advocate of tough action against the Palestinians.
Against the backdrop of violence, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government fended off three no-confidence votes in Israel's parliament. Sharon rejected calls for early elections, and was searching for partners to stabilize his coalition and recapture a majority in the legislature.
In the Monday evening bombing, the assailant, identified as 20-year-old Nabil Sawalha, blew himself up in a shopping mall in Kfar Saba, a town northeast of Tel Aviv just across the West Bank border from the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya.
Police said one of the Israeli dead was a mall security guard who struggled with the bomber, stopping him from entering a crowded appliance store and thereby avoiding more casualties. The bomber blew himself up as he wrestled with the guard, police said.
The other victim's body was so badly mutilated that officials were working to determine the gender and identity.
"It seems that the alertness of the security force here prevented the terrorist from entering the shop which would have caused a great disaster," national police chief Shlomo Aharonishki told Israel television.
David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, said the attack was "proof that Palestinian terror knows no limits, specializes in cruelty and specifically targets the innocent."
Palestinian militants linked to the Fatah movement in Nablus claimed responsibility for the attack, contradicting an earlier report ascribing the blast to Islamic Jihad.
Earlier Monday, two Palestinians were killed, one of them a wanted militant from the Hamas movement, when their car exploded in the middle of the street and burst into flames in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinians blamed the blast on Israel, which has carried out dozens of killings of suspected militants. It appeared the Suzuki car was booby-trapped and the bomb was detonated by remote control, said Moeen Sakaran, chief of Palestinian intelligence in Nablus.
Hamad Sadder, a member of the Hamas military wing who was being sought by Israel, was killed, Palestinians said. His nephew, Mohammed Bustami carried out a suicide attack last week in a West Bank settlement that killed three Israeli soldiers, Palestinians said.
In Israel's parliament, Sharon's weakened government managed to withstand three no-confidence votes brought by opposition parties seeking to bring down the coalition and force new elections.
Sharon said he opposed early elections, but he also insisted he would not change government policies to accommodate a far-right party whose support he needs to restore his parliamentary majority.
"Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible," Sharon told legislators from his right-wing Likud party. "I hope everyone acts responsibly and doesn't try to make it difficult for a stable government to function."
Sharon's opposition to early elections suggested he would not accept a demand by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister. Sharon has offered Netanyahu the post of foreign minister in hopes it will firm up his government. But Netanyahu said he would accept the job on the condition that Sharon agree to general elections in the coming months.