OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, 15 January 2004 — A Palestinian mother of two blew herself up yesterday at the Erez Crossing at the Israel-Gaza border, killing three Israeli soldiers and a private security guard and signaling a new tactic by Hamas, who had never before dispatched a woman suicide bomber.
Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said the use of a woman bomber was unique for the group, but holy war “is an obligation of all Muslims, men and women.”
Israel said it will temporarily close the crossing to Palestinians, preventing thousands of workers from traveling to a nearby Israeli-Palestinian industrial zone that is one of the last vestiges of cooperation between the two peoples after more than three years of violence in which thousands have been killed.
The army said four of the seven wounded in the attack were Palestinians.
The bombing came as efforts to restart peace negotiations remained stalled, with Israel’s leaders threatening to impose a new boundary between Israel and the Palestinians if no progress is made soon.
Meanwhile, a British man shot in the head by Israeli troops in Gaza Strip last April died Tuesday after nine months in a comatose state, his family said yesterday. Tom Hurndall, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was trying to help children out of the path of a tank in the Rafah refugee camp when he was shot.
An Israeli soldier was charged Monday in the incident. A military official said on condition of anonymity that the indictment could be upgraded to manslaughter.
At the Erez Crossing yesterday morning, a woman identified as Reem Raiyshi,22 , told soldiers checking Palestinians that she would set off a metal detector because she had an implant to repair a broken leg. She was taken for a security search to a special room, where she set off the bomb, said Maj. Sharon Feingold, a military spokeswoman.
“I heard soldiers screaming, the blast was very strong,” said a Palestinian woman standing outside the room who identified herself only as Amena. She said another Palestinian woman in the room ran out, bleeding from her legs.
After the explosion, a temporary structure made of corrugated metal had a large hole in the roof, and destroyed desks and computers were scattered nearby.
The bombing was jointly claimed by Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. However, Raiyshi was described as a Hamas activist.
“This is an indication that resistance will continue,” Yassin said.
The tactic of using a woman appeared aimed at piercing Israeli security, which mainly focuses on men as possible suicide bombers. Other militant groups have used women in the past but Hamas had not done so.
In a video made before the bombing, Raiyshi wears the traditional hijab covering for women, holds an assault rifle and stands before two green Hamas flags.
“I always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyr attack, where parts of my body can fly all over. That is the only wish I can ask God for,” she said with a smile.
Raiyshi had two children: a girl, Doha, 18 months, and a boy, Obedia,3 . Her brother-in-law Yusef Awad expressed disbelief that she had abandoned her children. “We were not expecting that from her. We would not have thought it possible,” he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei declined to condemn the attack, saying that continued Israeli attacks and restrictions on the Palestinians are leading “to more escalation on both sides.”
There have been several previous attacks at the Erez Crossing. In response to yesterday’s attack, Israeli officials said they would close the Erez Crossing to Palestinians for several days. Roughly6 , 000Palestinians have to enter Erez to get to jobs at an industrial zone filled with Israeli, Palestinian and jointly owned factories.
“We are not going to close it (permanently) but no one can blame us for making more stringent checks,” said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni, the Israeli military commander in Gaza, indicated that Israel would hit back. “I imagine that we will know how to respond at the time, place and method of our choosing,” he told Israel TV.
The industrial zone straddling the Israel-Gaza border provides crucial jobs to residents of the impoverished coastal plain, where 60 percent of working-age people are unemployed.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack on Erez appeared aimed at pushing Israel to close the border, depriving thousands of Palestinians of work and making life in Gaza even more miserable — which raises the popularity of militant groups.