GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP) – A Palestinian suicide bomber detonated a truck loaded with explosives as he tried to ram a crucial crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel early Thursday, a spokesman for the militant Islamic Jihad said. No one else was wounded.
The explosion, which could be heard miles away, came as a Gaza’s Hamas rulers reported that the latest Egyptian efforts to pry a truce from Israel and Gaza militants had failed.
The Islamic Jihad spokesman, who called himself Abu Ahmad, said the 23-year-old militant drove a pickup truck filled with four tons of explosives toward the Erez crossing in northern Gaza.
He described the attack as a “successful martyrdom operation” that was meant to “send a message” to Israel that if it doesn’t accept a truce “Gaza is not going to be a place where you will enjoy stability.”
The truck exploded on the Gaza side of the border, blowing a hole in a pedestrian passageway leading out of the terminal and into Gaza. No pedestrians were at the crossing at the time because it was early, and the Israeli military said no soldiers were wounded. The explosion shattered windows in Netiv Haasara, an Israeli community across the border.
Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said in terms of the amount of explosives used in the attack, Thursday’s bombing was the largest since Israel pulled its settlers and troops out of Gaza nearly three years ago. She would not confirm the militants’ claim that the truck carried four tons of explosives.
Shortly after the attack, an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a nearby jeep similar to the kind often used militants and the security forces of Hamas, a Hamas security official said, adding that there were no casualties. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not yet been officially released. The military said it targeted militants involved in the bombing.
Israel’s army regularly clashes with Gaza gunmen who fire rockets at Israeli towns and attack troops along the border. The crossings, which militants see as hated symbols of Israeli authority, are frequent targets.
Since June 2007, when Hamas came to power, Israel and Egypt have kept the Gaza crossings closed to everything but humanitarian aid in an attempt to weaken the group. The sanctions have been tightened in response to the ongoing rocket fire.
Israeli government spokesman David Baker accused Hamas of “cynically attacking crossing points used for Palestinian humanitarian needs.”
The attack on Erez came as a Hamas delegation was returning to Gaza from Egypt after holding cease-fire talks. Hamas officials said the round of talks failed and blamed Israel for not accepting a proposed six-month truce. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the group had yet to make an official statement.
Israel claims that Hamas would only use a lull in fighting to rearm, strengthen its rule and prepare for another round of fighting, and Hamas officials acknowledge that is one of their goals.
The Erez crossing will be closed until the damage can be repaired, said Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner. Erez is the main crossing point for international aid workers and Palestinians traveling to Israel for medical treatment, he said, and thus “the main victims of this attack are the Palestinians themselves.”
Israel must not let such attacks halt the flow of goods into Gaza, said John Ging, the Gaza director of the U.N. organization in charge of Palestinian refugees.
“If you hand the agenda over to the extremists, then they are very happy about it. If it only takes one rocket to derail everything, then that’s massive power,” Ging said.
In a separate incident Thursday morning, a 62-year-old Palestinian civilian was shot and killed in central Gaza, according to Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza Health Ministry. The military said it had no forces in the vicinity, and the circumstances of the man’s death remained unclear.