A Palestinian suicide bomber struck a food stand in the central Israeli town of Hadera, killing five people, wounding at least 30 and leaving a path of destruction at an open air market, police and rescuers said.
In a phone call to The Associated Press, the Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility, saying it was to avenge the killing of Luay Saadi, leader of the group's military wing in the West Bank. Saadi was killed in a shootout with Israeli soldiers closing in on his hideout in the Tulkarem refugee camp on Monday.
Wednesday also marked the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Islamic Jihad chief Fathi Shekaki outside a Malta hotel in a mission widely attributed to Israel.
"Body parts reached all the way until my apartment building. The damage is really great," witness Eidan Akiva told Channel Ten TV, saying he lived 100 metres from the blast.
"All the stalls alongside just fell apart. The windows are all broken. It looks like a war was here," he said. "This is a very crowded place, very central place. We never expected that this would happen. We thought our world was good but apparently we were wrong."
Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last month has raised hopes for a return to Mideast peacemaking after five years of bloodshed. However, the sides have failed to capitalize on the pullout's momentum, and Wednesday's bombing appeared to hurt prospects for a return to talks.
"This is another link in the murderous chain of terrorism served up by the Palestinian Authority, which continues to do nothing to stop these terror attacks," said Israeli government spokesman David Baker. "The Palestinian Authority should once and for all disarm and dismantle the terror organization."
Ambulances rushed to the scene after the explosion at the crowded entrance to a felafel stand next to the central bus station. Israel Radio said a bomb had been placed at the scene, rather than being a suicide attack.
Police and Hadera mayor Chaim Avitan, however, insisted the attack was a suicide bombing. Rescue teams were treating the wounded in a nearby field.
Israeli police and medics reported that five people were killed in the blast and that one person was critically wounded. Mendola said 30 people were hurt.
"We are talking about a serious attack, and the number of wounded is relatively high, and the last of the wounded are being evacuated at this time," said Yeruham Mendola, a spokesman for the Magen David Adom rescue service.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the bombing.
"We condemn this attack in Hadera, as we've always condemned suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, and we hope that we will not allow this attack or any attack to undermine the cessation of violence between the two sides. At the end of the day, violence breeds more violence and we don't want to go back to this vicious cycle."
Palestinian militant groups agreed to a ceasefire last March. Since then, the level of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dropped sharply despite periodic flare-ups.
Islamic Jihad has been blamed for each of the four suicide bombings since the ceasefire. The group signed on to the original truce, and says each of its attacks have been responses to specific Israeli actions.
"It is a natural retaliation for the Israeli crimes committed against our people, namely the crime against Luay Saadi," Islamic Jihad spokesman Khader Habib told the AP. "The Islamic Jihad movement was committed to the truce, and is still committed to the truce, but this truce should be mutual. We cannot tolerate a one-sided truce."
Hadera, located between Tel Aviv and the northern city of Haifa, is flanked to the east by Israel's West Bank separation barrier, which is designed to keep out suicide bombers. It was not immediately clear how the assailants got around it.
Reacting to the bombing, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev referred to statements from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and from a Hamas leader in Gaza reiterating that group's commitment to violent struggle.
"Today, Israelis heard two extremists speak openly about destroying the Jewish state. One was the new president of Iran, and the other was the leader of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar. And it appears the problem with these extremists is that they followed through on their violent declarations with violent actions," Regev told the AP.
The last suicide bombing in Israel, on Aug. 28 in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, killed only the bomber. Before that, a July 12 suicide blast at a shopping mall in the coastal town of Netanya killed five Israelis.
Hadera has also had its share of attacks. In January 2002, a Palestinian tossed hand grenades into a wedding celebration, killing five people and wounding more than 30. In November 2001, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Hadera, killing himself and three Israeli passengers. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that blast.Reuse content