Dimona attack shatters the peace efforts

The first Palestinian suicide bombing in more than a year has provided Israelis with a stark reminder of the security risks overshadowing recent peace efforts.

Two Palestinians wearing explosives belts walked into the southern town of Dimona early Feb. 4, mingling with shoppers in a mall. The first terrorist detonated his bomb, killing an Israeli woman and wounding nine.

The attack prompted a major security alert at a nearby nuclear reactor.

Among those floored by the blast was the second terrorist. Medics who stripped him to administer treatment saw the bomb, and a police narcotics agent passing by shot him dead.

“It was like a war zone,” said vendor Haim Mor-Yosef. “I heard a blast and immediately knew it was a terrorist attack because of the body parts.”

Al Aksa Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, and Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Islamic Jihad praised an action it described as revenge for Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and military raids in the West Bank.

Fatah denied involvement, while Abbas, who has been strongly praised by President Bush, issued a statement of tepid censure.

“The Palestinian Authority expresses its full condemnation of the Israeli military operation in Kabatiya early this morning, just as it condemns the operation that took place today in Dimona,” he said, adding a call for an end to “all operations that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis.”

The “civilians” referred to in Kabatiya, a West Bank village, were two Islamic Jihad gunmen shot dead by Israeli commandos.

Israel responded angrily to the equivocation by Abbas. At least one Cabinet member, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai of the Orthodox Shas party, called for the end of peace talks with Abbas that were revived last November and for Israel to redouble its crackdown on the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in remarks to his Kadima party faction said, “There is a war on between us and the terrorists, and it is being waged without let-up.”

Dimona is 20 miles from the West Bank, but also 40 miles from the Egyptian border. Israeli officials have been warning that Palestinians who streamed out of the Gaza Strip after Hamas recently blew up the border fence with Egypt would end up infiltrating the Jewish state.

Egypt has since begun sealing its border with Gaza — known in Israel as the Philadelphi Corridor — and tried to round up Palestinians in the Sinai Desert. But Israeli right-wingers said such steps by the Egyptians was a case of too little, too late.

Yuval Steinitz of the opposition Likud Party called the Dimona bombing “a direct result of Israel’s failure to do what is necessary in Gaza militarily and control Philadelphi.”

“What we have to do now is demand that the Egyptians, finally, make good on their security obligations,” Steinitz said.

After a suicide bombing Jan. 29, 2007 killed three Israelis in Eilat, Israeli officials vowed to erect a fence along the Egyptian border, which is little more than a line in the sand. A year later, no such project has been undertaken, though Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to find the funds.