DIMONA, Israel – A suicide bomber blew himself up Monday in the southern town that houses Israel’s secretive nuclear reactor, killing an Israeli woman and wounding seven other people, Israeli officials said. Police said they killed a second attacker before he had a chance to detonate his explosives belt.
It was the first suicide attack in Israel in a year, and officials were investigating whether the attackers came in through Egypt after Palestinian militants breached the Gaza-Egypt border last month.
An offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement claimed responsibility, complicating recently renewed peace efforts. The attackers, they said, came from the West Bank, though the claim could not immediately be verified.
Hours after the suicide bombing, Israeli aircraft struck a car in the northern Gaza Strip, killing a wanted man.
Israeli government officials dismissed the notion that the heavily guarded Dimona nuclear reactor was the suicide attackers’ target. The explosion took place in a shopping area about six miles from the reactor site.
Ambulances and a large contingent of soldiers, rescue workers and police rushed to the scene of the bombing, the first in the working class town of 37,000.
Police said one attacker managed to detonate his explosives belt, but the second was shot dead by police before he could set off his bomb. A police bomb squad went to the scene to defuse the explosives.
Dr. Baruch Mandelzweig said he was at his nearby clinic when he heard the blast. He and his nurses rushed out to see what had happened, and saw body parts “strewn around everywhere.”
They spotted a critically wounded man and began to treat him before realizing he was the second attacker.
“We saw an explosive belt,” Mandelzweig said. “We ran away,” and later we heard he had been shot, the doctor said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said, “the terror organizations have shown again who they are and what they are.”
“Their goal was and continues to be to kill Israeli citizens in their homes and their schools and in their shopping centers,” he added. “Israel will continue to fight against this murderous terror.”
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Israeli security chiefs warned that because of the anarchy on the Gaza-Egypt frontier, Palestinian militants might enter Israel through Gaza’s Sinai desert to attack a civilian Israeli target, a government official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Cabinet meeting was closed.
Southern Israel has been on alert against militant attacks since the Gaza Strip’s Islamic Hamas rulers breached the border with Egypt on Jan. 23. Egypt managed to reseal the border only on Sunday.
The breach made Israel’s Negev desert, where Dimona is located, more vulnerable to penetration by Palestinian militants who could enter through Egypt’s porous border. Dimona is about 40 miles northeast of Egypt.
The bombing came at a critical juncture. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators relaunched peace talks after a seven-year break just two months ago, and Israel has made it clear it won’t implement any accord until militant groups in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza are disarmed.
Abbas’ office denounced the attack. It denied Al Aqsa was involved and linked the bombing to an Israeli raid in the West Bank that killed two Islamic Jihad militants before dawn Monday.
The previous suicide bombing in Israel occurred Jan. 29, 2007, when a Palestinian attacker entered Israel from Egypt, killing three Israelis at a bakery in the southern Israeli city of Eilat.
Dimona is home to Israel’s nuclear research center, and it is widely believed that atomic weapons were developed at the plant. Israel neither admits nor denies having nuclear arms.