Palestinian bomber kills three in bakery
The suicide attack was the first in Israel in nine months.
JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian suicide bomber struck in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat on Monday, blowing himself up in a bakery and killing three others. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in nine months, and the first in its southernmost city, which had been spared such attacks during more than six years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Islamic Jihad and a branch of Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it a message to feuding Palestinian groups to stop fighting each other and turn their guns on Israel.
At least 30 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Thursday in fighting between rival factions Fatah and Hamas. A truce between the two sides was announced early today, though previous cease-fires have quickly unraveled.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman said that the bomber, Muhammad Siksik, 21, from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, had reached Eilat from Jordan on a mission that had been planned for seven months. The spokesman promised more attacks in what he called an effort to shift attention from internal fighting to the battle with Israel.
Jordan denied that the bomber had entered its territory, and Israeli police officials said he had infiltrated Israel from Egypt, crossing north of Eilat from the Sinai desert. "We know exactly the point where he crossed," said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
Shattered relative calm
The attack shattered a lull in suicide bombings in Israel that has been attributed to Israeli security measures and an agreement by most Palestinian militant groups to suspend such attacks as part of a shaky cease-fire. Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, has rejected the truce. It carried out the last suicide attack in Tel Aviv on April 17.
"For a long time we enjoyed relative calm, but it should be said, an illusory calm regarding terror activity," said Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert. "It was not always publicized, [but] we thwarted a great many attacks in various areas."
In Washington, the White House condemned the bombing, taking a swipe at the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
"The burden of responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks rests with the Palestinian Authority government," White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement. "Failure to act against terror will inevitably affect relations between that government and the international community and undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own."
Threat to tourism
Although the bombing was in a residential neighborhood far from Eilat's hotels and beaches, the attack threatened to further hurt tourism in the city, which has seen a sharp decline in foreign visitors during the recent years of violence.
"The city of Eilat is unaccustomed to such events; this is certainly a big shock," Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy told Israel Radio. "I'm definitely concerned, because this is a city that depends on the tourist industry."
The bomber was picked up on the northern outskirts of Eilat by a motorist who grew suspicious of his passenger and alerted the authorities after dropping him off.
The driver, Yossi Voltinsky, who was on his way to work, told Channel 10 television that he noticed his passenger, who wore a small backpack, was "acting very pressured and very nervous," failed to respond when spoken to, and took notice when Voltinsky reached for his cell phone.