Palestinian Suicide Bomber Kills 3 in Israeli Resort City

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

JERUSALEM, Jan. 29 -- A 21-year-old Palestinian from the Gaza Strip blew himself up Monday inside a bakery in the Israeli resort city of Eilat, killing himself and all three people inside.

The morning suicide attack was the first inside Israel in nine months, and it brought sharp condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the White House and leaders of the relatively moderate Fatah faction led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But the governing Hamas movement and Islamic Jihad, a smaller radical group that asserted responsibility for the bombing, called the attack a legitimate response to Israel's occupation of territories that Palestinians envision as part of their future state.

Islamic Jihad officials said the bombing should motivate Palestinian armed groups -- whose partisan fighting in Gaza has killed nearly 30 people in recent days -- to end their differences and unite against Israel.

"This is an important message to the factions," Mohammed el-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad political leader in Gaza, told al-Jazeera satellite television. "We have to remember that we are one nation with one enemy."

Olmert met with military officials following the attack in Eilat, a flashy resort city on the Red Sea whose tourism industry has suffered in the aftermath of Israel's war last summer with the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. It was the first suicide bombing in the city, although Israeli vacationers have been targeted in the past just across the border in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Because there were no survivors inside Lehamim Bakery, located in a residential neighborhood on the edge of Eilat's tourist district, Israeli officials took more than an hour to determine the cause of the 9:40 a.m. explosion.

Police investigators arrived at the bakery, which rescue workers described as a grisly scene, to discover the remnants of an explosives vest on one of the bodies. Israeli officials said the bomb contained nine to 17 pounds of explosives, generating a blast that sent a shower of glass and bread trays into the streets.

"It was very, very hot and he had a coat on," a witness named Benny Mazgini, 45, told Israel Radio. "It didn't look right to me. I thought to myself, 'What's that idiot dressed like that for?' A couple of seconds later I heard a massive explosion."

Olmert said he is weighing Israel's response and vowed to "continue in our ongoing and unending struggle against terrorists and those who send them."

At a news conference in Gaza City, a masked gunman from Islamic Jihad's military wing identified the bomber as Mohammed Siksik, a member of the group from the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

Siksik left home three days ago, according to family members interviewed by the Palestinian Ramattan news service, after rival Hamas and Fatah militias began their latest round of factional fighting. Islamic Jihad officials said he entered Israel through Jordan, a contention the Jordanian government denied.

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