Palestinian militant groups demanded an apology Tuesday from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for condemning Monday's deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, in their harshest criticism yet of the moderate leader over his stand on violence.
The criticism, including from armed groups within Abbas' own Fatah party, underscored a growing debate among Palestinians over the use of violence against Israel.
"We ask President Abbas to apologize to the entire Palestinian people because of the offense he committed," the groups said in a joint statement by a coalition of militants read by a masked gunman at an open-air news conference in Gaza.
Abbas said Monday that the attack, which killed nine people, ran counter to Palestinian interests. But he used stronger wording than usual, describing the attack as "despicable."
The militant groups objected to his wording, saying that it was insulting to Palestinian "martyrs who sacrificed their lives and souls."
"Abu Mazen [Abbas] should have condemned the killings of our people and fighters rather than condemning Palestinian acts of self-defense," the statement said, issued in the name of three Fatah-linked groups and the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group of Palestinian militants.
A senior minister in the Hamas-led government, alluding to the Tel Aviv suicide bombing, upheld the position Tuesday, saying that Palestinians had the right to defend themselves against Israel in any way possible.
The comments from Interior Minister Saeed Seyam were the first from a cabinet-level Hamas official member in response to the attack.
"We are not a great power who can confront the planes and the missiles of the occupation, but our people have the will and the right to defend themselves and to confront as much as they can the arrogances of the occupation," Seyam told reporters.
Bomber's father arrestedAlso Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces troops raided a West Bank village near Jenin, arresting the father of the suicide bomber.
Israel Radio reported that in addition to the father, Samih Hammad, the IDF also took into custody two of the bomber's friends.
The family of the bomber, Samer Hammad, had emptied the home of all furniture overnight for fear the army would demolish the building, as it often does the homes of attackers, the witnesses said. But the army was not immediately preparing to destroy the building, the witnesses said.
The Islamic Jihad movement, hailing its Monday suicide bombing that killed nine people and wounded scores in Tel Aviv, has warned that has an army of 70 suicide bombers who plan to blow themselves up in Israel.
The "martyrdom operation" was "the first fruit of a recently formed unit of bombers, which includes 70 male and female bombers," Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed told reporters in Gaza hours after the attack.
He slammed Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for condemning the suicide attack in Tel Aviv and praised the new Palestinian government led by the militant Hamas movement, which condoned it.
"This is a legitimate attack by all the international laws and conventions, as well as religious rules, and no one can condemn this act of resistance," he said.
The Islamic Jihad bomber who carried out the Monday afternoon attack said in a video released by the organization that many more bombers were "on the way."
The group identified the bomber as 21-year-old Sami Salim Mohammed Hammed, an Jihad member from a village near the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
There were unconfirmed reports that the bomber was much younger, perhaps as young as 16.
In the video, Hammed said the bombing was dedicated to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. "There are many other bombers on the way," he said.
The bomber reached Tel Aviv from the West Bank despite a total closure on the territories, and large numbers of security forces deployed around the country due to a high alert for Passover. The Shin Bet security service is trying to work out the route the bomber took to reach his destination. A gag has been placed on the details of the investigation.
The blast ripped through Falafel "Rosh Ha'ir," the same restaurant that was hit by an attack on January 19 in which 20 people were wounded.
The restaurant is in the bustling Neveh Sha'anan neighborhood near the bus station, and is home to large numbers of migrant workers.
Four of the victims died after they had arrived at hospital. Of the wounded, five were seriously hurt, 12 sustained moderate wounds and the rest were lightly hurt.
By Tuesday morning, eight of the victims had been identified as 60-year-old Victor Erez of Givatayim; Benjamin Haputa, 47, of Lod; 45-year-old Philip Balahsan of Ashdod; Rosalia Basanya, 48 and Boda Proshka, 50, both from Romania; David Shaulov, 29, of Holon; 42-year-old Lily Yunes of Oranit and Ariel Darhi, 31, of Bat Yam.
Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank claimed responsibility for the attack.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said that the extent of the wounds sustained by the victims indicated that the explosive device had been a large one. Police estimates put the weight of the bomb as between 5-10 kilos. Islamic Jihad said that the device weighed 13 kilos.
There had been no intelligence to indicate an impending attack, Karadi said.
Security forces arrested on Monday three Palestinians suspected of involvement in the attack, near the Harel interchange en route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The suspects were detained for questioning.
Earlier, police arrested three other suspects near Givat Ze'ev believed to have fled in a car from the scene of the attack in Tel Aviv. Police released the suspects after finding no evidence linking them or the car to the incident.
The attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Hamas took over the PA government a little over two weeks ago. Hamas and some other armed groups have been observing a shaky ceasefire with Israel for more than a year, although the new Hamas-led Palestinian leadership has refused to condemn attacks against Israelis.
The Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for all six of the previous suicide attacks inside Israel since the ceasefire was declared.
Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah had said Sunday that the militant group was making "nonstop efforts" to infiltrate suicide bombers from the West Bank into Israel.
"The nonstop crackdown against our resistance might limit this effort, but it's not going to stop it," he said in a statement posted on the group's Web site.
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