JERUSALEM, Feb. 26 -- Palestinian and Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinians on Saturday in connection with a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv the night before, while leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Syria asserted responsibility for the attack.
Among those arrested were two brothers of the presumed bomber and the man who allegedly drove the bomber to the nightclub where he detonated explosives, killing himself and four others and wounding about 50 people, Israeli security sources said. Most of the casualties were young Israelis waiting in line to enter the club, a karaoke bar called the Stage.
An Israeli security guard examines debris at the site of a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed four.
(Brennan Linsley -- AP)
Israeli security sources identified the bomber as Abdullah Badran, 21, an observant Muslim and university student from the West Bank village of Deir al-Ghusun, northeast of Tel Aviv on the so-called Green Line between the West Bank and Israel.
Confusion reigned among security forces for much of the day as Israeli and Palestinian officials accused Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim group in Lebanon, of being behind Friday's attack. But Saturday night, the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus asserted responsibility and released a video of the presumed bomber, who said that his aim was to damage the Palestinian Authority, which "acts according to American interests."
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus said the attack was in retaliation for what he described as Israel's violations of an undeclared truce with the Palestinians that has been in effect for several weeks. He did not specify what the violations were.
"The calm period with the [Palestinian] Authority was an agreement for a month that has ended," said the spokesman, who identified himself as Abu Tareq of Islamic Jihad's Damascus-based political bureau, the Associated Press reported.
"Israel has not abided by the pacification period. This is the main reason that led to this operation," he said.
Islamic Jihad officials in the Gaza Strip had denied their group was involved in the blast, saying they were continuing to honor the de facto truce with Israel.
A senior Israeli security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said evidence now clearly pointed to Islamic Jihad officials in Syria as the masterminds and financiers of the bombing. "They did this because they want to keep the terror as a legitimate weapon in the war against us, and they never meant to stop," he said.
An agreement to honor the informal truce that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "had, or thought he had, with Islamic Jihad was probably with several people with Jihad in Gaza, and the people in the headquarters in Damascus probably did not agree," the official said.
In Beirut, Hezbollah officials denied the group had any connection to the Tel Aviv bombing. They said unidentified Palestinian security sources were blaming them to preserve their tentative truce with Israel and to cover their own failure to prevent a domestic militant group from carrying out the attack.
"These are unfounded accusations, and we have repeatedly said we do not have agents or cells inside Palestine," said Mohammed Afif, a Hezbollah spokesman.
The blast was the first suicide bombing in Israel in almost four months and threatened to unravel a growing Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement that has evolved following the death in November of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Abbas, Arafat's elected replacement as Palestinian Authority president, met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Feb. 8, and the two leaders separately declared an end to hostilities.
Israel's response to Friday's bombing has so far been restrained. Senior Israeli officials have demanded that Abbas disarm and dismantle Palestinian militant groups, saying that is the only way to combat terrorism. But the officials also say Abbas is making a good-faith effort to reduce violence and needs more time.