GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP)- The Islamic militant Hamas claimed responsibility Tuesday for a suicide attack in Israel, saying the attackers came from the West Bank city of Hebron.
In text messages to journalists and on Hamas’ TV, Hamas identified the two attackers as Mohammed Herbawi and Shadi Zghayer.
One woman was killed and 11 people were wounded in Monday’s attack in the southern Israeli town of Dimona.
Israeli security forces were on high alert Tuesday, sending beefed-up patrols to public areas such as shopping malls, bus stations and train depots a day after the first Palestinian suicide attack in more than a year.
An Israeli airstrike targeted a Hamas police station in a Gaza town, killing six people and wounding six, Hamas security officials and a health official said. Earlier, two Hamas militants were killed in clashes with Israeli troops targeting rocket squads in Gaza.
On Monday, a Palestinian militant group said the attackers took advantage of the recent breach of the Egypt-Gaza border to go to Egypt and then sneak through the porous frontier with Israel. But Israeli authorities were questioning claims the bombers entered Israel from Egypt.
Israeli security officials were also investigating whether the bombers came from the West Bank city of Hebron, a militant hotbed. Intelligence reports suggested more than one militant cell had tried to infiltrate Israel, generating confusion over who actually carried out the attack.
The suicide attack on the southern town of Dimona killed a 73-year-old Israeli woman, critically wounded her husband, and injured 10 others.
Police were out in higher numbers at entrances to cities, shopping malls and bus and train stations. Overnight, border police arrested 240 Palestinians who had entered Israel illegally to work, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
One of the militant groups that claimed to have carried out the attack said its gunmen were poised to strike again, but Rosenfeld said no specific new threats were identified.
Israeli Cabinet ministers are to discuss on Wednesday a long-standing proposal to build a barrier along the 150-mile border with Egypt. And the head of the Israeli parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee urged Israel to start assassinating the political leaders of the Islamic Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, and not just its military commanders.
On Monday, two attackers strapped with explosives belts entered Dimona, home to Israel’s secretive nuclear reactor. One bomber managed to blow himself up, but the second was injured in the blast, and police shot him to death before he could detonate his device.
Security officials were looking into whether the bombers set out on their mission from Hebron. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because no final conclusions have been drawn. Palestinian officials said Israeli forces detained several members of a well-known Hamas family.
Hamas militants blasted down large sections of Gaza’s border wall with Israel on Jan. 23, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to pour into Egypt unchecked for 12 days.
The border breach and Monday’s attack fueled Israeli fears that Gaza militants had streamed into Egypt and planned from there to infiltrate Israel and strike places such as Dimona, which lies about 35 miles from the Egyptian border.
Egypt didn’t reseal its border with Gaza until Sunday.
Israel’s desert border with Egypt is mostly open, with few obstacles. By contrast, a large fence complex separates Gaza from Israel, and attacks from the seaside territory have been rare.
Israeli officials have dismissed suggestions that the attackers’ target might have been the nuclear reactor in Dimona, where atomic weapons are widely believed to have been manufactured. The facility is heavily guarded, enclosed by a large 10-foot barbed-wire fence and located 1.5 miles down a road closed to the public. Israel neither admits nor denies having nuclear arms.
Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that it was time Israel went after the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic group that violently wrested control of Gaza from Abbas’ security forces in June.
There is no difference between Hamas’ political leaders and its military wing, Hanegbi told Israel Radio. In the past, when Israel assassinated top political figures such as Hamas’ spiritual founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, “it had a direct effect on the motivation of Hamas leaders to carry out terror attacks,” Hanegbi said.
The attack complicated recently revived peace efforts between Israel and moderate Palestinians led by Abbas, but did not derail them. Late Monday, Israel’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, met with the lead Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia.
At the same time, Israel vowed to push forward with its military campaign in Gaza.
The airstrike Tuesday hit a police station in the southern Gaza village of Abassan, Hamas security said. Hamas security officials said the men were performing afternoon prayers when the building was hit.
The Israeli military confirmed the attack, and said it came in response to Qassam rockets from Gaza that had struck the Israeli border town of Sderot earlier Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, two Hamas militants were killed in clashes with Israeli troops carrying out an operation in southern Gaza against rocket squads. At least two rockets fell in the southern Israeli town of Sderot early Tuesday, striking two factories and damaging them, the military said. No one was injured.
Hours after the Dimona bombing on Monday, an Israeli aircraft attacked a car in northern Gaza, killing a senior militant who was involved in rocket attacks on Israel.