Despite new call to cease attacks, bomber strikes
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack that killed an Israeli.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at an Israeli army checkpoint in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing at least one member of the Israeli security forces and wounding several others in defiance of a new call by the Palestinian government for guerrillas to cease attacks against Israelis.
The Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, asserted responsibility for the 7:10 p.m. attack at Gush Katif junction, at the northern entrance to the large Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Katif along the Mediterranean coast in southern Gaza. The group identified the bomber as Omar Tabash. No other information was immediately available about him.
Palestinian and Israeli sources initially said the blast killed an Israeli soldier; subsequent news reports identified the dead man only as an officer with Shin Bet, Israeli's domestic intelligence agency. His name was not disclosed.
The Israeli sources said eight soldiers and Shin Bet officers were wounded.
The bombing occurred about two hours after the new Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, arrived in the Gaza Strip to continue talks with Palestinian faction leaders aimed at securing a cease-fire against Israeli targets and to personally order Palestinian Authority security chiefs to act more aggressively to prevent attacks against Israelis.
Hamas and another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, both have indicated that a cease-fire is possible but unlikely.
Leaders of the organizations have said that they have no intention of stopping attacks while Israeli troops and Jewish settlers continue to occupy the Gaza Strip and as long as Israel continues aggressive military operations, such as targeting senior Palestinian militant leaders for assassination and demolishing Palestinians' houses.
"We always said that the Palestinian resistance is a reaction to Israeli aggression, and Israeli aggression must stop before demanding any Palestinian initiatives," Nafez Azzam, a senior political leader in Islamic Jihad, said in an interview Tuesday.
Late Tuesday night, dozens of Israeli armored vehicles entered the northern West Bank city of Nablus in the largest incursion there in months, according to witnesses who said troops surrounded Nablus' old city and took up positions elsewhere, too.
Soldiers herded at least two dozen people -- including women and children -- into a schoolyard in one part of the city, a witness said.
"There are forces there," said an Israeli military official who declined to be identified by name or to provide details about the move into Nablus.
"This operation is against the terror infrastructure in the area."
Pledging to stop
Meanwhile, Zakaria Zbeida, a prominent West Bank leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Abbas' Fatah movement, pledged to stop all attacks inside Israel but said guerrillas would continue to target Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suspended ties with the Palestinian Authority last week after six Israeli civilians were killed in an attack at a border crossing between Gaza and Israel.
Sharon accused Abbas, who was sworn in as president on Saturday, and the Palestinian government of doing nothing to combat terrorism.
The Israeli military has reportedly developed plans for a major offensive in Gaza if there is no halt to attacks here, including daily rocket and mortar barrages on Jewish settlements and Israeli towns just across the border.
Abbas has said that he does not want to use force against Palestinian militant groups, fearing that it could escalate into a civil war, but rather prefers to persuade them to embrace a cease-fire.
He has pleaded for time to negotiate such a truce, but Israeli officials have indicated that their patience has run out.
"He doesn't need to wait until he talks to people," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon. "If he doesn't take action, we're not going to wait to take action. Every day we wait and sit back and do nothing, we get more casualties."