Palestinian suicide bomber attacks Israel, underscores fears of an exploited border

 

 

By Laurie Copans

DIMONA, Israel – A Palestinian bomber blew himself up Monday in this desert town near Israel’s nuclear reactor, killing an Israeli woman and wounding 11 people in the first suicide attack inside Israel in a year.

Police killed a second attacker after a doctor found a suicide vest while treating him for wounds suffered in the blast.

The attack fueled Israel’s fears that Gaza militants would exploit a border breach with Egypt to sneak into Israel. Militants claimed the bombers entered Israel through the porous Egyptian border, about 35 miles from Dimona, and said more militants were inside Israel waiting to strike.

In Gaza, gunmen fired in the air, and relatives of the bombers passed out sweets to celebrate the bombing.

An offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement claimed responsibility, threatening to complicate recently revived peace talks.

Abbas condemned the violence from his West Bank stronghold. Israeli officials said peace talks with Abbas would continue but vowed to push forward with the country’s military campaign in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic militant Hamas. Hours after the bombing, an Israeli aircraft attacked a car in Gaza, killing a senior militant who was involved in rocket attacks on Israel.

Speaking to parliament, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is facing a “constant war” against Gaza militants. “This war will continue. Terrorism will be hit. We will not relent,” he said.

While Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of suicide bombings since 2000, Monday’s attack was the first in Dimona, a working class town of 37,000 in the Negev desert that houses Israel’s nuclear reactor. The explosion took place in a shopping center about six miles from the facility.

Israeli officials dismissed suggestions the reactor might have been the target. The facility, where atomic weapons are believed to have been developed, is heavily guarded, enclosed by a 10-foot tall barbed-wire fence and located a mile and a half down a road that is closed to the public. Israel neither admits nor denies it has nuclear arms.

The force of the blast left a surreal scene of strewn flesh and scattered clothing and furry slippers from a bombed-out store. A large bloodstain smeared a wall, rising 20 feet above the ground.

“There was a great explosion, and a great ball of fire came toward me,” said David Dahan, 58, who was wounded in the blast. Dahan, who uses walker because of a hip injury, had just finished his morning coffee at a cafe when the bomb went off about 6 feet away.

“I saw him (the bomber) fall. I was hit, but I held on to my walker … My clothes were covered with his flesh,” said Dahan, speaking at a hospital in the nearby city of Beersheba. A bloody bandage covered his eye, and ball bearings were lodged inside his chest and the swollen left side of his face. A leg and arm were also injured.

A second attacker was discovered by Dr. Baruch Mandelzweig, who rushed to treat the wounded. He said he spotted a critically wounded man whose head was moving and opened his shirt to treat him.

“We saw an explosive belt,” Mandelzweig said. “We ran away.”

Then police officer Kobi Mor rushed to the scene, where he said he found the bomber on the sidewalk with his explosive belt visible.

“The minute I saw him move his hand toward the belt, I fired and his hand fell,” Mor told Channel 10 TV. “Two and a half minutes later he lifted his hand again, again toward the belt, and I knelt down and fired four bullets to the center of his head.”

Israeli TV stations called Mor the “hero of the day.”

Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid contributed to this report from Gaza City