Saturday, October 9, 2004

TABA, Egypt — Israel’s intelligence chief yesterday blamed al Qaeda for the bombings at resorts in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which Israeli officials said killed at least 26 persons, including many celebrating a Jewish holiday, and wounded more than 100.

Israeli and Egyptian rescuers dug through the debris of the Taba Hilton — the site of the biggest blast, where at least four persons were thought to still be buried after the bomb sheared off the outer rooms of a 10-story wing. Two smaller blasts quickly followed in Ras Shitan, a camping area near the town of Nuweiba, 35 miles south of Taba.

Thousands of frightened Israeli tourists rushed back home, streaming into Eilat just across the border yesterday. Many complained bitterly that Egyptian authorities prevented tourists from leaving the resorts after the blasts and delayed them at the border.

The Israeli intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, blamed the bombings on Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network at an emergency Cabinet meeting. Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady said it was too early to speculate.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said he and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak agreed that they must fight terrorism together.

At the Hilton, Israeli military rescuer Gefan Naty told the Associated Press that it was unlikely any more survivors would be found.

“I don’t believe anyone is still alive. We just pulled out one child,” about 10 years old, who was dead, Mr. Naty said.

Sinai’s resorts were particularly crowded on Thursday, the last day of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, when thousands of Israelis vacation there.

The most devastating of the bombings was at the Hilton, where a car laden with explosives crashed into the lobby and detonated, an Israeli official said on the condition of anonymity. There were reports of a second or third explosion in the compound, one of which might have been a suicide bomber.

South Sinai Gov. Mustafa Afifi said there were three car bombs — one at the Hilton and two at Ras Shitan. He added that an Egyptian security guard got suspicious and tried to stop one of them at the camping area.

“In Ras Shitan, one of the cars was intercepted, so it blew up away from” the lodgings, Mr. Afifi said. He did not elaborate.

At the Hilton, the burned-out shell of a vehicle rested inside a meeting room.

Sheets and blankets tied to the Hilton’s balconies showed the frantic efforts by guests to flee. Stairs of a fire escape were twisted perpendicular to the building. Business cards, CDs, bottles and cans, and personal items were scattered around. Burned cars sat outside the hotel.

There were varying reports on casualties.

Israel Defense Forces Home Front commander Yair Naveh told Israeli radio that 26 persons were confirmed dead, 24 of them in the Taba blast. The Egyptian Interior Ministry said 22 died.

Two American employees of the U.S. Embassy in Israel were slightly injured in the Taba bombing, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.

Three previously unknown groups claimed separately to have carried out the attacks.

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