JERUSALEM -- Militants making bombs in an apartment in the Gaza Strip accidentally set off a blast yesterday that killed eight people, including a 3-year-old child, according to Palestinian police.
Police carried from the rubble four unexploded bombs wrapped with nails and said they found a cache of automatic weapons.
The 4 p.m. explosion was so powerful it ripped the concrete block walls from the middle floor of the three-story apartment building. Thirty others were injured.
Two or three of the dead were members of the violent wing of the Hamas Islamic fundamentalist group, which opposes the steps by the mainstream Palestine Authority to make peace with Israel, according to police.
The events triggered a round of accusations of conspiracy. A Hamas spokesman said the explosion was not an accident but rather a planned act by the Palestinian Authority and Israel to assassinate its members.
Palestinian officials, in turn, said the explosives had been imported through the Israeli port of Ashdod. A spokesman for Palestinian Authority chief, Yasser Arafat, accused "some parties in Israel" with supplying Hamas, presumably to destabilize the fledgling Palestinian regime.
Israel said one of the Palestinians killed, identified as Kamal Kheil, had long been wanted as a suspected terrorist. An Israeli spokesman hinted that Palestinian police might have been in the process of raiding the apartment when the blast occurred.
"This was a terrible thing today, but the resolve of the Palestinian Authority to deal with [Hamas] will inject new life into the peace process," said government spokesman Uri Dromi.
He said reports that Palestinian police were breaking into the apartment are an "indication that they take it more seriously. This is something we have asked for."
The explosion yesterday occurred in a residential neighborhood near Gaza City that was evacuated by Israeli troops in May. Palestinian officials said Hamas members were packing a bomb into a large suitcase when it exploded.