- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

12:11 p.m.

EILAT, Israel — A Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bakery in this southern Israeli resort city today, killing three persons and himself, police said. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in nine months and the first ever to hit Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.

A normally tranquil Red Sea resort at Israel’s southern tip near the Jordanian and Egyptian borders, Eilat is separated from Israel’s largest cities by hundreds of miles of desert. it has been largely immune from Israeli-Palestinian fighting and is a popular getaway for Israelis.

Israeli leaders said the bombing jeopardized a two-month truce in Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to continue the “ongoing and never-ending struggle against terrorists.”

His defense minister, Amir Peretz, convened an emergency meeting of top security officials. “This is a grave incident; it’s an escalation, and we shall treat it as such,” Mr. Peretz said.

A spokesman for Hamas, the radical Islamic group that controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet, praised the bombing as a “natural response” to Israeli policies — a position likely to complicate the group’s efforts to end a crippling aid boycott imposed by the international community.

Two Palestinian militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, claimed joint responsibility for the attack.

Both groups said the bombing was meant to help bring an end to weeks of Palestinian infighting that has killed more than 60 persons in the Gaza Strip since December. Fighting continued across the Gaza Strip today, and four persons were killed, officials said.

The Islamic Jihad, in a Web posting, identified the bomber as Mohammed Saksak, 20, of Gaza City. Saksak’s family said he had left their home three days earlier and not returned.

Relatives said he was despondent because he was unemployed and his baby daughter died recently of an illness. Also, his best friend was killed in a clash with Israeli forces, they said, and his brother is a top Islamic Jihad militant.

In Washington, the White House condemned the violence and said it held the Hamas-led government accountable.

“Failure to act against terror will inevitably affect relations between that government and the international community and undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own,” the White House said.

It was the first suicide bombing in Israel since last April, when a bomber struck a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing 12 persons.

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