TULKARM, West Bank, (Reuters) – A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up when soldiers tried to search him at a roadblock in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing one Israeli.
A passenger who had unwittingly shared the same taxi as the bomber said soldiers stopped the car at an impromptu roadblock and asked young men to get out.
"The man got out slowly, closed his jacket and blew himself up," said Nafez Shahin, 48.
Israel Radio said three Palestinians were also killed, but Palestinian forces said they were unaware of more deaths.
The army said the roadblock had been set up in response to intelligence warnings that a bomber was on his way to Israel to strike during the ongoing Hanukkah holiday.
Emergency services said one Israeli was killed. Six Palestinians and two Israelis were wounded.
The bombing dealt a blow to a shaky 10-month-old truce by militants that is due to expire on Saturday, the last day of 2005. Growing violence has put peacemaking hopes on hold and could influence forthcoming elections on both sides.
Israel Radio said the Islamic Jihad militant group carried out the attack. The same group was behind the last suicide bombing in Israel, when five Israelis were killed on Dec. 6 at a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya.
Islamic Jihad officials in Gaza could not confirm that the group was responsible, but vowed to strike "in the depth of the Zionist entity" to retaliate for Israel”s imposition of a new "no-go zone" in the northern Gaza Strip.
Israel shelled Gaza on Thursday to enforce the buffer zone designed to prevent militants firing rockets from the Gaza Strip, abandoned by Israeli troops three months ago after 38 years of occupation.
Optimism that the pullout would be a step to reviving talks on Palestinian statehood has shrunk, with both Israelis and Palestinians busy preparing for elections early next year that could reshape the landscape for peacemaking.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is battling to win a third term against rightist opponents who condemn his widely popular withdrawal from Gaza, saying it effectively rewarded Palestinians for their uprising and would encourage more attacks.
Israel said on Thursday it would continue the shelling and air strikes on Gaza for as long as it took to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets.
Palestinians condemned the buffer zone as a re-occupation of land evacuated by Israel and said police would remain deployed in the area despite Israeli requests that they leave for their own safety.
"The Israeli determination to implement this plan will widen the cycle of the conflict and will not achieve the goals which Israeli occupation forces seek to achieve," the Palestinian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Any major surge of bloodshed could also complicate Palestinian parliamentary elections in January and even force a delay.
Earlier this week, Abbas tried to get militant leaders in Gaza to agree to halt the cross-border rocket fire and renew a pledge to follow a ceasefire that brought 10 months of relative calm.
But a leader of Islamic Jihad said he did not believe there would be
a ceasefire extension.