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Suicide Bombing Leads Israelis To Start Patrol of Gaza Border<P>By Steven Erlanger THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>JERUSALEM <P>

Suicide Bombing Leads Israelis To Start Patrol of Gaza Border

By Steven Erlanger


A Palestinian carrying explosives blew himself up during rush hour Sunday morning in Beersheba, the first act of suicide terrorism since Israel pulled its settlers out of the Gaza Strip last week.

Hours later, the Israeli Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to allow Egypt to patrol its border with Gaza with 750 armed men, permitting Israel to withdraw the last of its soldiers from Gaza in the next month.

In a statement issued by the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the bombing in Beersheba, 55 miles south of Tel Aviv, as “a terrorist attack.” Two security guards were critically wounded and another 46 people were hurt.

The bomber asked a bus driver for directions in a dirt parking lot 100 yards from the Beersheba bus station. The driver, suspicious, directed him to another bus and called security guards, who chased the man and asked him for documents. The man then detonated his explosives, but he was not in a crowded area.

The militant groups Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, identifying the bomber as Ayman Zaaqiq, 25, of a village near Hebron. But Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism agency, said Zaaqiq was in custody, so the identity of the bomber remained unclear.

Israeli officials condemned the bombing as “a wake-up call that brings us back to the reality of terrorism after the euphoria of the Gaza disengagement,” said Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “As long as the Palestinians don’t take decisive action against terrorism this will continue, and Abbas’ strategy of making political deals with terrorist organizations will come back to haunt him,” he said. “They smell that he’s weak, and they’ll keep pressing.”

But Abbas pointed to an Israeli army raid in the West Bank town of Tulkarem on Wednesday night that killed five Palestinians as “a provocation,” after having earlier said that the raid “intentionally seeks to renew the vicious cycle of violence” at a time “when the Palestinian Authority is trying to maintain calm.”

That raid by Israelis was aimed, Israel said, at a cell of Islamic Jihad that had planned the two most recent suicide bombings, in Tel Aviv on Feb. 25 and in Netanya on July 12, in which 10 Israelis died.