- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

TEL AVIV — A Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis in the Red Sea resort of Eilat yesterday morning, shattering one of the longest lulls in militants’ attacks on Israeli cities since the start of the latest Palestinian uprising.

The bombing, the first ever to hit the tourist city at Israel’s southern tip, threatens to undermine a months-old cease-fire in attacks between the Israeli army and Palestinian militant groups.

It comes at a time when the United States is trying to prod Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss a “political horizon” for future peace talks. The Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — are scheduled to meet in Washington Friday.

Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant wing of Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party, claimed responsibility for the attack, while a spokesman for Hamas justified it.

The bomber, 21-year-old Mohammed Siksik from the Gaza Strip, walked into the bakery-cafe in the middle of a shopping center and triggered explosives hidden in a bag. Witnesses said the bomb destroyed the bakery and left body parts scattered outside.

Israeli security authorities think Siksik exited Gaza via its border with Egypt and then looped southward to infiltrate Israel’s porous border with the Sinai Peninsula.

In a statement published on its Web site, the Islamic Jihad claimed that Siksik reached Eilat from the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba.

Located at the edge of a desert with a strip of five-star beachfront hotels, Eilat attracts sun-worshipping tourists in the middle of winter. The resort was spared until yesterday from the wave of attacks that have traumatized the rest of the country because of the city’s location hundreds of miles away from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

But Eilat’s position, bracketed in between Jordan and Egypt, puts it a short drive away for militants who succeed in sneaking across the border. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, it has lost much of the control over Palestinian civilian traffic at the Egyptian border crossing, making it easier for terrorists to use Egypt as a third-party halfway point.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called the attack an “escalation” and instructed the defense establishment to prepare retaliatory measures.

“Israel won’t grant any protection to any militant organizations,” Mr. Peretz said. “Although Israel doesn’t want the cease-fire to collapse and wants to preserve it, Israel won’t hesitate to tackle terrorist threats against its citizens.”

Early today, Israeli aircraft struck a tunnel on the border with the Gaza Strip, a military spokesman said.

“Palestinians were preparing to use it to commit an attack in Israel,” the spokesman said of the tunnel, located near the Karni border post, the main crossing point for goods traffic between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It was the first airstrike in two months.

The suicide bombing was the first since the outbreak of internal Palestinian fighting, and it underlined the potential of the violent internecine power struggle between Hamas and Fatah to spill over into Israel.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad said that while the bombing was aimed at Israelis, the subtext was domestic.

“The operation sends a clear message to Palestinian rivals: Stop internal fighting and direct your guns at the Israeli occupation,” the group’s Web statement said.

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