Hamas claims Dimona attack, says bombers came from Hebron
Earlier reports said bombers entered via Egypt, police still investigating; woman killed, 11 hurt in blast at mall.
Hamas' armed wing claimed responsibility for a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed a woman in Dimona on Monday, the first such attack inside Israel claimed by Hamas since 2004, a Hamas source told Reuters.
Both the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Bridgade and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack earlier in the day.
Palestinians had reported that the militants, who they said were from Gaza, entered Israel through Egypt, but the Hamas source said the two Palestinians who died during the attack came from the West Bank city of Hebron. Israel Police were still investigating.
The last time Hamas' armed wing claimed responsibility for suicide bombings inside Israel was August 2004, when 16 people were killed and 100 wounded in explosions on two buses in the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva.
The suicide bomber blew himself up in the southern town of Dimona at around 10:30 A.M. Monday, killing a woman from the town and wounding 11 others, in the first terror attack of its kind in over a year. Click here for map
Negev Police Chief Yossi Porianta said that there had been two suicide bombers, but only one managed to detonate his explosives belt; the other was shot dead by security forces before he could blow himself up.
The second bomber had apparently been knocked out by the force of the first blast and was about to detonate his own belt, when rescue teams noticed the explosives and alerted police, who shot him at point blank.
Abu Fouad, a spokesman for the Fatah-allied Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - which claimed responsibility for the attack - said the operation had been planned for a month, but was made possible after militants violently opened Gaza's border with Egypt on January 23. He said the attackers sneaked into Egypt after the border breach, then crossed into Israel using unspecified private contacts. He added that Dimona was chosen because it has never been hit before.
Security forces had been on high alert due to fears that the breach in the border fence between Gaza and Egypt would lead to an increase in terrorist attacks against Israel.
Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva said that one person was in critical condition, with apparent head injuries; two people were moderately wounded and eight others had light wounds.
"We heard a big explosion, and people began running," a shop owner who gave her name as Revital told Army Radio. "I saw pieces of bodies flying in the air."
Other witnesses described the explosion as "massive."
A large number of rescue services and police crews rushed to the shopping center in the wake of the blast. The Magen David Adom rescue service said that at least 20 ambulances had been sent to evacuate the wounded, and Police Commissioner David Cohen also dispatched a helicopter from Jerusalem to assist rescue services the evacuation.
Dr. Michael Sherf, the director of Soroka Medical Center, said the bomb had been packed with ball bearings, making the impact more potent.
David Dahan, a 58-year-old man disabled by a hip injury, had just finished his morning cup of coffee at a local cafe when the blast went off about two meters away.
"There was a great explosion and a great ball of fire came toward me," said Dahan, who uses a walker to get around. "I saw him (the bomber) fall. I was hit, but I held on to my walker... My clothes were covered with his flesh."
Dahan's eye was covered with bloody bandages, and ball bearings were lodged inside his chest and the swollen left side of his face. A leg and arm were also injured.
Dr. Baruch Mandelzweig said he was at his clinic nearby when he heard the blast. He and his nurses rushed out to the street to see what had happened, and saw body parts strewn around everywhere.
They spotted a critically injured man whose head was moving, and began to treat him before realizing he was the second attacker.
"We saw an explosive belt," he said. "We ran away, and later we heard he had been shot," Mandelzweig said.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said it carried out the attack, claiming responsibility in communcation with international news outlets, but a Fatah official in the West Bank denied the group's involvement.
The conflicting statements reflected divisions in Fatah as its leader Mahmoud Abbas pursues U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel for the first time in seven years.
A Fatah source said earlier that the "Army of Palestine" wing of Al-Aqsa had carried out the attack, along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Fatah was quoted as saying that 2008 would be a year of suicide attacks, Channel 2 Television reported.
Yellow Fatah flags flew outside the Gaza home of one of the attackers, 22-year-old Luay Laghwani, and Al Aqsa gunmen fired in the air in tribute to him. His sobbing mother, Ibtissam, held up a picture of him as a young teenager, while male relatives scolded her for crying, saying she should be proud her son was a martyr.
She said her son had gone to Egypt three times after the border was breached, and last saw him on Wednesday afternoon. He gave no indication that he was about to embark on a suicide mission, she said.
The other attacker was named as 24-year-old Moussa Arafat.
Dimona, some 40 kilometers from Be'er Sheva, is the site of Israel's nuclear reactor. The explosion took place about 10 kilometers from the reactor site, where it is widely believed that atomic weapons were developed. Israel neither admits nor denies having nuclear arms, following a policy of ambiguity designed to keep its neighbors unsure of its military capability.
Shortly after the attack, Dimona, which has until now been spared an attack, shut down all the city's schools and kindergartens.
The last suicide attack in Israel was on January 29, 2007, when a bomber killed three people in a bakery in the southernmost city of Eilat.
Emergency numbers: Soroka Medical Center - 12 55 177 Magen David Adom - 1 800 600 101