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Four killed in Israeli resort suicide bombing

London Guardian | January 29, 2007 

A man blew himself up inside a bakery in the Israeli resort city of Eilat today, killing himself and three other people, police said.
The attack was the first suicide bombing inside Israel since April last year. Two Palestinian militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, claimed joint responsibility.

An Islamic Jihad website said the attack was intended to help bring an end to the factional fighting that has flared in the Gaza Strip since December.

"The operation has a clear message to the Palestinian rivals. It is necessary to end the infighting and point the guns toward the occupation that has hurt the Palestinian people," a message on the site said.

The group named the bomber as 21-year-old Mohammed Saksak, of Gaza City.

The attack was condemned by Fatah, the party of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. However, the more radical Hamas group - which controls the Palestinian parliament - said it was a "natural response" to Israeli policies.

"So long as there is occupation, resistance is legitimate," a spokesman for the organisation said.

That stance is likely to further isolate Hamas, which is viewed by the EU and US as a terrorist organisation. Foreign funding to the Hamas government has been cut off since it won elections a year ago.

David Baker, a spokesman for the Israeli government - which refuses to deal with Hamas - gave a cautious response.

"At this point it's unclear what the origin of the terror attack is," he said. "Israel as a nation is continually confronting terror threats. Israel is always on guard against such attacks."

Police initially said they believed the blast had been either a gas explosion or the result of a criminal incident, but later confirmed it was a suicide attack.

They said three people in the bakery, plus the bomber, who is believed to have been wearing an explosives belt, were killed.

"I saw a man with a black coat and a bag," a local resident told Israel Radio. "For Eilat, where it is hot, it is strange to see someone walking with a coat.

"I said to myself: 'Why is this idiot dressed that way?' Seconds later, I heard a huge blast. The building shook."

Bruno Stein, the area's police commander, said officers feared more bombers could be preparing to strike. "Our assumption is that it's not one bomber ... there might be more bombers in Eilat right now," he added.

Today's attack, which happened in a residential neighbourhood, was the first suicide bombing to hit Eilat, a southern Red Sea resort near the Jordanian-Egyptian border.

The city, popular with both Israeli and foreign tourists, is distant from Israel's major centres and has been largely insulated from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The suicide blast was the first in Israel since April 17, when a bomber struck at a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing 12 people.

Suicide bombings in Israel are sharply down from a peak four years ago when hundreds were killed in dozens of attacks. A resurgence of bombings could derail efforts by the US, Israel and Mr Abbas to restart stalled peace talks.

Fighters from Fatah and Hamas battled each other in the Gaza Strip earlier today, killing two people and plunging large areas of Gaza City into darkness after an electrical substation was knocked out.

Several people were kidnapped, including the young son and nephew of the head of the Abbas-allied Preventive Security Service. The kidnappers threatened to kill the boys within three hours unless Hamas fighters seized by Fatah-allied security forces were released.

The violence was some of the most serious in recent weeks, sparking renewed fears that the volatile situation could spiral into full-blown civil war.

Increased fighting was sparked when Mr Abbas threatened in December to call new elections - a move denounced by Hamas as an effective coup attempt.

Hamas and Fatah have held weeks of fruitless talks about cooperating in a unity government, and both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have offered to mediate between the sides.


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