Hamas admits suicide attack as Israel retaliates

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The Independent Online

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide attack for the first time in more than three years yesterday, saying it dispatched the bombers who killed an Israeli woman in the southern desert town of Dimona on Monday.

After almost 24 hours of confusion over claims by other factions that the bombers came from Gaza through Egypt and into Israel, Hamas said its members had in fact travelled from the West Bank city of Hebron. It was not clear whether the claim reflected a clear decision by Hamas to return to a policy of suicide attacks, which it had abandoned before winning the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. The announcement came shortly after Israeli forces killed eight Hamas members, including at least six Hamas security police, in an air strike on a police station in the town of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. Palestinian militants later fired eight Qassam rockets into Israel – one of which hit a house and injured four people.

Monday's suicide attack in Dimona claimed the life of Lyobov Randolskaya, 73, and seriously wounded her husband. A second bomber was shot dead before he could detonate his explosive vest. Israeli officials had been working on the theory that the bombers travelled from Hebron, rather than through the breach in the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah, but last night they insisted they had not yet come to a settled view on where the militants began their journey. Despite hints earlier in the day by the Israeli Defence minister, Ehud Barak, that the pair probably entered from the West Bank, a ministry spokesman said the issue was still being investigated with the help of DNA tests.

Meanwhile, Hamas named the perpetrators of the Dimona attack as Shadi Zghayer and Mohammed Herbawi, whose mother told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he disappeared after morning prayers on Monday. Members of both families were arrested for questioning by Israeli forces.

If Hamas's claim is correct, it leaves open the possibility that two other men, named in Gaza as having crossed through the Rafah border to carry out a suicide attack, are still at large. The men were named by two factions – an offshoot of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade linked to the Fatah movement, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. An Israeli television channel showed photographs that the factions claimed were the men behind the suicide strike, but suggested that they did not look like the men killed at Dimona.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Barak pledged "to find a solution to the terror from Hebron", while his cabinet colleague, Zeev Boim, told Israel radio: "Most likely the terrorists didn't come from the border with Egypt. Most likely they came from the area of Mount Hebron."

Meanwhile, at a meeting of Israel's security cabinet today, the Foreign minister Tzipi Livni will propose that – subject to agreement on new arrangements between Gaza and Egypt – Egypt can double its permitted number of troops along the border between Egypt and Gaza from 750 to 1,500.

Responsibility for two rockets which hit factories in the Israeli town of Sderot yesterday was claimed by two other Palestinian groups – a unit of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and the Popular Resistance Committees. They said they were retaliating against the assassination of the PRC commander Amer Qarmout in an air strike on Monday.