An Islamic militant blew himself up in a crowded pedestrian mall in the Israeli coast town of Netanya on Sunday, wounding 30 bystanders. The militant group Islamic Jihad said the bombing was a show of support for Iraq.
Israeli officials said they have been on high alert for bombings by Palestinian militants presumably eager to express support for Iraq since the start of the U.S.-led campaign 10 days ago.
Islamic Jihad’s leader in Damascus, Ramadan Shallah, called the bombing a “gift to the heroic Iraqi people” and said the group had sent volunteers for suicide missions to Baghdad. The Netanya blast came a day after an Iraqi soldier killed four U.S. soldiers in a suicide bombing.
Islamic Jihad and its sister group Hamas have said previously they wanted to stay out of other conflicts and focus on their confrontation with Israel.
The bomber set off explosives studded with nails shortly before 1 p.m. near Cafe London, a popular outdoor restaurant along Netanya’s crowded pedestrian mall.
A group of soldiers stood near the entrance at the time, making it impossible for him to enter, and he blew himself up outside, police said. They disputed an initial report that a security guard had kept away the bomber.
“There was a huge explosion,” said a worker at a nearby fish restaurant, who would only give his first name, Herzl. “I saw two soldiers thrown to the ground and the terrorist ripped to pieces at the entrance.”
The attacker died and at least six of the wounded were in serious condition, hospital officials said. Islamic Jihad identified Sunday’s assailant as 19-year-old Rami Ghanem, from the village of Deir Al Ghassoon near the northern West Bank town of Tulkarem.
Outside the cafe, chairs and tables were overturned, and the sidewalk was littered with torn clothing, broken plates and bits of flesh.
Sunday’s blast was the first suicide bombing since March 5, when 17 Israelis were killed in a bus blast in the northern port city of Haifa.
Sunday also marked Land Day, an annual day of marches and protests by Israel’s Arab citizens against land confiscations.
Netanya, in northern Israel, has been a frequent target, in part because of its proximity to the West Bank. A Hamas bomber attacked a hotel in Netanya during the Passover Holiday a year ago, killing 29 people participating in a holiday meal.
David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites)’s office, said the bombing was a “brutal reminder of the cruelty of Palestinian terrorism.”
Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, said the Palestinian leadership “condemns targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli.” He urged the international community to step up efforts to revive Mideast peace talks.
Sunday’s bombing also underscored the difficulties facing Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has the support of international Mideast mediators who want him to rein in Palestinian militants.
Abbas was meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza Sunday.