Suicide bomber kills 3 in Israeli resort town

Blast at bakery is first such attack in Israel in 9 months

2 groups claim responsibility

January 30, 2007|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- A young Palestinian set off an explosives-laden backpack in a bakery in the Red Sea resort of Eilat yesterday, killing himself and three other people in the first suicide attack against Israel in nine months.

The blast occurred far from Eilat's beachfront hotel strip. An Israeli army reserve officer who had unwittingly agreed to drive the hitchhiking bomber toward the popular tourist destination became suspicious, dropped him on a remote road and alerted police.

As police vehicles headed to the area, the backpacker reached a row of shops in a poor neighborhood, entered the bakery and detonated 33 pounds of explosives, officials said. The 9:36 a.m. blast killed the Lechamim Bakery's two owners and an employee.

Two Palestinian groups, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, claimed joint responsibility for the bombing and said it was meant to encourage the rival Hamas and Fatah factions to stop fighting each other and "point the guns" at Israel instead.

Israeli leaders said the attack jeopardized a 2-month-old truce accord between them and Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip. The bomber was identified by the two militant groups as Mohammed Siksik, a Gaza resident in his early 20s whose family said he had left home on a suicide mission three days earlier.

"This is an escalation, and we shall treat it as such," Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said as he convened an emergency meeting of top security officials in Tel Aviv. "No terror organization will get away. The cease-fire will not prevent us from hitting them."

The blast also cast a shadow over U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's plan to hold a three-way meeting next month with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on ways to revive peace talks.

Abbas has been unable to stop sporadic Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza in violation of the cease-fire. Some of the rockets have come from the Al Aqsa group, which is loosely affiliated with his Fatah movement.

Suicide bombings have become rare in Israel, and yesterday's attack prompted Israeli television stations to break into programming with live coverage from the scene. The bakery and neighboring shops were a shambles, with shattered glass, loaves of bread, metal bread trays and body parts strewn on the bloodstained sidewalk.

Benny Mazgini, 45, told Israel radio that he watched from a balcony across the street as a man in a black winter coat entered the bakery. It was 53 degrees out.

"I said to myself, `What's this idiot dressed like that for?'" he recalled. "I went inside, and a few seconds later I heard a massive explosion."

Abbas' Fatah movement denounced the bombing. A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, called the attack a "heroic" response to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its efforts to cut off outside financing for the Hamas-led government.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah declared a cease-fire early today in an effort to end factional fighting in the Gaza Strip that has left more than 60 Palestinians dead in the past two months. But several earlier truce agreements aimed at stopping the internal Palestinian bloodshed, raging fitfully since early December, have broken down.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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