Hamas says bomb-makers caused fatal blast in Gaza

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Hamas has admitted that an explosion which killed eight Palestinians in northern Gaza was an accident during preparations for a bomb attack.

The explosion on Thursday – which in the immediate aftermath the Islamic faction claimed was caused by an Israeli air strike – killed a four-month-old girl, six Hamas militants and a civilian adult. It destroyed the house of a prominent militant, Ahmed Hamouda, who was not there.

As Hamas's military wing said the militants were preparing for a "special jihadi mission", Abu Obeida, a spokesman, said: "An error occurred and led to the explosion and they were martyred."

Hamas fired about 20 rockets at Israel shortly after the explosion in Beit Lahiya. The Israeli military killed five other militants in two strikes on the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister and Labour leader, told party activists yesterday that without turmoil over the leadership of the ruling party Kadima "a truce agreement with Hamas would have been achieved a long time ago".

Meanwhile, Israel's Interior Ministry announced that a further 1,300 Jewish homes would be built in Arab East Jerusalem, bringing to 3,000 the total of homes it has approved in occupied territory since US-backed negotiations began late last year.

The senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat declared: "We firmly condemn this project, which reveals the Israeli government's intention to destroy peace."

Israel insists an international call to cease settlement activity will not stop building in East Jerusalem. Its unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem is not accepted by the international community.