The Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility yesterday for a suicide bombing a day earlier in Tel Aviv that threatened a fragile truce.
JERUSALEM — The Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility yesterday for a suicide bombing a day earlier in Tel Aviv that threatened a fragile truce, and the group suggested more such attacks were likely.
Israel blamed Syria, which has allowed Islamic Jihad leaders to operate from Damascus for many years. Syria denied the charges.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security forces each made arrests in the West Bank, and Israel said it was freezing plans to hand over security control to the Palestinians in several West Bank towns.
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Islamic Jihad leaders repeatedly denied involvement until last night, when the group released a video and posted a message on its Web site saying it was behind the bombing at a Tel Aviv night club that killed four Israelis and wounded at least 50.
It was the first such bombing inside Israel in nearly four months.
One-month pause over
An Islamic Jihad official, identified only as Abu Tarek, said on the Web site that a one-month pause in attacks was over because Israel had continued to kill and arrest Palestinians.
“As long as the other side is not committed, there will be a response from our side,” he said.
Also, a video left by the bomber, Abdullah Badran, 21, showed him next to Islamic Jihad flags and vowing to avenge the deaths of Palestinians. In a statement, he criticized the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of collaborating with the United States and Israel.
An informal truce announced Feb. 8 by Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has mostly been holding. Some Palestinians had been killed and arrested, but Israel said these actions were in response to planned or actual attacks.
Islamic Jihad’s bombing places Abbas in a difficult position. Israel is demanding that Abbas confront the armed factions, arrest their members and seize their weapons.
Abbas has sought to coax the factions into halting attacks, calling them counterproductive to the Palestinian goal of statehood.
Commenting before Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, Abbas said the bombing was the work of a “third party” and an attempt “to sabotage the peace and calm that was agreed on by all the factions.”
Abbas, speaking at the Palestinian political headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, added: “We will not hesitate for one moment to follow them and to bring them to justice. We will not allow anybody, whoever he is, to sabotage our aims.”
Israeli security forces arrested five suspects, including two of the bomber’s brothers, and Palestinian security forces picked up three more suspects near the West Bank town of Tulkarm, the two sides said. Badran, the bomber, came from a nearby village, Deir al Ghusun.
The Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, blamed Syria for the bombing in Tel Aviv. Israel has long criticized Syria for harboring Islamic Jihad.
Syria rejected the charges. Syria “had nothing to do with the Tel Aviv operation and … this [Islamic Jihad] movement’s office is closed in Syria,” a foreign ministry official in Damascus said on condition of anonymity.
Israeli security officials said they might resume assassinating Islamic Jihad leaders in the Palestinian territories because the informal truce no longer applied to them.
Such a move, which Israel recently agreed to halt as part of a reinvigorated peace process after the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Abbas, would likely mean the end of the cease-fire.
Mofaz added that Israel was suspending talks with the Palestinians on handing over control in five West Bank towns, including Tulkarm.
The attack was condemned by the Bush administration, which announced that it has been in touch with the Palestinian leadership “to urge immediate and credible action by Palestinian security authorities.”
Despite the claim of responsibility by Islamic Jihad, Israeli officials and analysts voiced strong suspicions that another Syrian-linked organization may have been involved: the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.
“We are well aware that Islamic Jihad has taken responsibility, but I can only say that we know that over the recent period of time Hezbollah has been actively trying to do something like this,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
Hezbollah denied any role in the bombing.
The Israelis have long accused Hezbollah of assisting the Palestinian factions.
“From our point of view, it doesn’t matter who is executing an attack,” said Gideon Meir, a senior official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“We have always had one address: The government that is responsible, and in this case it is the Palestinian Authority.”
Material from The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.