DIMONA, Israel (Reuters) - A Palestinian suicide bomber killed a woman in southern Israel on Monday, the first such attack in the country in a year, but Israeli officials said peace talks would not be derailed.
Police said they prevented a second blast in the shopping centre in the town of Dimona by shooting dead another attacker before he could detonate an explosives belt.
“It was like a war. People were running like crazy. I saw a piece of a human being right there, next to my leg,” witness Rosa Enberg told Israel’s Channel Two television.
Hamas’s armed wing said it was responsible for the Dimona bombing, the first such attack inside Israel claimed by the group since 2004, a Hamas source in the Gaza Strip told Reuters.
The Hamas source said the two attackers came from the West Bank city of Hebron, rather than from the Gaza Strip, which the Islamist group seized in June after routing secular Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The last time Hamas, which opposes Abbas’s peace talks with the Jewish state, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing inside Israel was August 2004, when 16 people were killed and 100 wounded in explosions on two buses in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.
Earlier on Monday, a unit of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip identified as the “Army of Palestine” claimed responsibility for launching the Dimona attack along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The Army of Palestine released a video in Gaza showing the two attackers in a farewell message saying they wanted to strike against what they called Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.
Wearing military-style fatigues and clutching an assault rifle, one of the militants, 20-year-old Loai al-Aghwani from Gaza City, said in his videotape he hoped his participation in the attack would “restore dignity to the Palestinian people”.
A video broadcast from the scene in Dimona, aired later on Israeli television, showed a close-up of the face of the second attacker who was shot dead after the bomb went off. The body and facial features shown on the latter video appeared larger and older than those on the “Army of Palestine” video.
Israel’s Channel 10 television, which aired the conflicting images side by side, said it raised questions about the identities of the bombers.
Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, widely believed to have produced atomic bombs, is located in a heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of the town.
Fatah officials in the occupied West Bank denied al-Aqsa’s involvement in the bombing. The conflicting statements reflected divisions in Fatah as Abbas pursues U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel, the first in seven years.
“Abu Mazen (Abbas) is a moderate who wants peace. We will continue to negotiate with him,” an Israeli official said.
Gaza militant groups praised the Dimona bombing as retaliation for Israeli raids. Young supporters of Fatah handed out flowers and candy to passing cars in the Gaza city of Rafah.
Abbas condemned the Dimona bombing but also criticized an earlier military raid by Israel in the occupied West Bank.
Police said the suicide bomber blew himself up in Dimona’s busy commercial centre, killing himself and the Israeli woman, who was not immediately identified.
“The second terrorist was shot in the head as he tried to set off his bomb belt,” said Yossi Porianta, the police chief in Israel’s southern Negev region. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said 10 people were wounded.
A Palestinian suicide bomber last struck in Israel on January 29, 2007, killing three people in the southern resort town of Eilat, on the Red Sea.
Hours after Monday’s bombing, an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip killed Amer Qarmout, a senior commander in the Popular Resistance Committees, which carries out cross-border rocket attacks. The PRC vowed revenge.
Israeli officials said the two bombers might have entered Egyptian territory after the Gaza-Egypt border was blasted open by Hamas last month, and then infiltrated into Israel through its unfenced frontier with Egypt.
Egypt has since sealed the breach. Al-Aqsa Brigades in Gaza denied Aghwani and Musa Arafat, 23, from the Gazan town of Khan Younis, reached Israel from Egypt.
But Arafat’s mother said her son had telephoned her from the Egyptian town of el-Arish.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Adam Entous and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Mohammed Assadi and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Editing by Adam Entous and Elizabeth Piper