Female Bomber Kills Four Israelis at Entrance to Gaza Strip

12 Israelis wounded; IDF: troops had sent for woman soldier to inspect the bomber when she detonated the explosives she carried.

Hours after a Palestinian woman blew herself up early Wednesday at the Erez crossing terminal, killing four Israelis, Palestinian Foriegn Minister Nabil Sha'ath said that the Palestinian Authority was capable of stopping such terror attacks, but that Israel must first halt its attacks on the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

Speaking from Copenhagen, Sha'ath said that last August the Palestinians unilaterally halted attacks, but this collapsed because Israel failed to abide by this as well.

Sha'ath refrained fron condemning Wednesday's bombing at one of the entrances to the Gaza Strip's main Erez crossing terminal to Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and an Israeli civilian. He said that he condemned all killing of Israelis and Palestinians, but pointed out that Wednesday's attack targeted soldiers in occupied territory.

Three of the four casualties were identified as Border Police Staff Sergeant Vladimir Trostinsky, 22, of Rehovot, IDF Staff Sergeant Tzur Or, 20, of Rishon Letzion, and IDF Corporal Andrei Kegeles, 19, of Nahariya.

Trostinsky will be buried on Thursday at 2 P.M. in Rehovot's military cemetery. Or's burial is also scheduled for 2 P.M. in Holon's military cemetery and Kegeles will be laid to rest at 3 P.M. in the military cemetery in the northern city of Nahariya.

The name of the fourth victim has not yet been released for publication.

First Hamas female suicide bomberHamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, jointly claimed responsibility for the blast, which also wounded 12 people.

Hamas, vowing to escalate attacks, said it used a woman suicide bomber for the first time, in order to counter Israeli security precautions.

"For the first time [Hamas] used a female fighter and not a male fighter and that was a new development in resistance against the enemy," Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told Reuters. "Resistance will esclate against this enemy [Israel] until they leave our land and homeland."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia declined to condemn the attack, saying that continued Israeli attacks and restrictions on the Palestinians are leading "to more escalation on both sides."

The explosion ripped through a recently dedicated facility where laborers and foreigners cross over the boundary. There were few Palestinian workers in the area at the time, Israeli officials said. Most workers had crossed hours before the mid-morning explosion.

Hamas later identified the bomber as the 22-year-old mother of two children.

IDF Brigadier-General Gad Shamni, commander of the army's Gaza Division, said that when the bomber reached the area where Palestinian workers are inspected prior to entry into Israel, she told security personnel that she had a metal plate in her leg, which could set off an alarm.

"Because she was a woman, a female soldier was sent for, to inspect her. While she was waiting for the arrival of the woman soldier, [the bomber] apparently succeeded in penetrating a meter or two into the inspection hall, and blew herself up."

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's office, said the bombing proved that "the Palestinian terrorists not only have blatant disregard for Israeli lives but an equally blatant disregard for their own economic interests.

"The Erez Crossing allows Palestinians to cross over into Israel for the purpose of work. Here we see how Palestinian terrorism not only strikes at Israelis, but also is a clear detriment to improving the Palestinian economy," Baker told Haaretz.

A senior Fatah official, taking issue with the bombing, told Israel Radio that the object of the attack was to prompt Israel to declare a closure over the Gaza Strip and cut off access to jobs within Israel, measures that act to boost grass-roots Palestinian support for Hamas and other militant movements.

"Unfortunately, this seems now to be part of a new upsurge in violence," said Terje Roed-Larsen, UN coordinator for the Middle East.

Condemning the "terrible terrorist attack" and extending condolences to the bereaved families of the slain Israelis, Larsen said the only way to keep the escalation from spinning out of control was for the parties to return to the negotiating table and show progress on the issues that were most crucial to the two sides.

The terminal, where thousands of Palestinian workers go out to work within the Jewish state during the day, was one of the last remaining expressions of official cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

It was long considered a symbol of co-existence, and thus has been a target of militants over the years.

The suicide bombing was the first since a December 25 attack at a bus stop outside Tel Aviv that killed four people.

But it came a day after gunmen ambushed a car in the West Bank, killing Ro'i Arbel, a father of five and resident of the settlement of Talmon. Arbel was the first Israeli to die in a terror attack since the December 25 bombing.

On October 14, three American security guards were killed just south of Erez, when a Palestinian set off a bomb at their passing diplomatic convoy.

Hotline for information on woundedA telephone hotline was established for information on wounded being treated at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon: 12 55 171.