Suicide blast kills 1 in Israel

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian blew himself up yesterday in a desert town near Israel's nuclear reactor, killing a woman and wounding 11 other people in the first suicide attack in Israel in just over a year.

Police prevented a second blast at the same shopping center in Dimona by fatally shooting another attacker as he reached for his explosives-laden belt.

The violence was the latest to sour the climate for U.S.-backed peace talks since they were revived in December after a seven-year hiatus. It followed stepped-up Israeli army raids against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the tightening of an Israeli blockade there and Hamas' demolition of a border wall that allowed hundreds of thousands of Gazans to pour into Egypt for 11 days.

Speaking in parliament after the blast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would continue peace talks with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and strike hard against militants trying to derail them.

"This war will continue," he said. "Terrorism will be hit. We will not relent."

Israeli officials said the reactor was not the target of yesterday's bombing, which occurred about six miles away. The reactor is surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence on a road closed to the public.

Conflicting claims of responsibility left it unclear who sent the assailants and where they came from.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an outlawed militia loosely affiliated with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the two men entered Israel after crossing from Gaza to Egypt through the breached border.

The militia identified them as Luay Aghawani, 22, and Musa Arafat, 24, and released a videotape of the two Gaza men reading farewell messages. Relatives in Gaza said that both men had left for Egypt last week.

Aghawani, a member of the al-Aqsa group, said on video that he intended to die to protest Israel's blockade of Gaza and "restore dignity to the Palestinian people." Arafat was identified as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is affiliated with neither Fatah nor Hamas.

News of Al-Aqsa's claim reinforced Israelis' fears that large numbers of Gaza militants had passed through the border breach, which was closed Sunday, and possibly entered Israel over its long, porous frontier with Egypt's Sinai region. Dimona, a working-class town of 35,000 people, is about 35 miles from that border.

Abu Fouad, a spokesman for the militia, said it had more militants inside Israel ready to strike.

But hours later, Reuters news service quoted an unnamed official of Hamas' armed wing as saying that it had carried out yesterday's bombing and that the attackers had reached Dimona from the West Bank city of Hebron, not from the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli army spokesman said security officials were investigating both claims.

Israel's Channel 10 television cast doubt on al-Aqsa's account by showing video of the second Dimona assailant before he was shot and observing that he appeared larger and older than the two Gazans in the farewell video.

Hamas' official spokesman, Ayman Taha, declined to comment on the Reuters report but praised the bombing as a "glorious act."

If Hamas, in fact, was responsible, it would be the heavily armed group's first known suicide attack inside Israel since 2004 and would signal a major escalation of the conflict.

Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction, has taken control of Gaza from Abbas' movement and allowed the territory to be used as a launch site for near-daily rocket attacks against Israeli communities.

Whoever carried it out, yesterday's attack reinforced doubts about Abbas' capacity to silence militants' weapons as he negotiates with Israel over the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of refugees and a possible division of Jerusalem

Abbas condemned the bombing, and al-Aqsa's West Bank leaders denied any involvement. But the videotape issued in Gaza indicated that his followers were splintered and beyond his control.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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