JEBALIYA, Gaza Strip – A 64-year-old Palestinian grandmother blew herself up near Israeli troops sweeping through northern Gaza on Thursday, and eight other Palestinians were killed in a day of clashes and rocket fire.
The militant Hamas, which is in charge of the Palestinian government, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack and identified the bomber as Fatma Omar An-Najar. Her relatives said she was 64 – by far the oldest of the more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers who have targeted Israelis over the past six years. Other reports put her age at 57.
Israeli forces were moving through the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza on the second day of an operation to stem rocket fire from the coastal strip into southern Israel. They spotted a woman acting suspiciously, the military said. Soldiers threw a stun grenade, a weapon that makes a loud noise but causes no damage. The woman then set off explosives she was carrying, killing herself and slightly wounding two soldiers.
At the compound where her extended family lives near Jebaliya camp, her oldest daughter Fatheya explained the bomber’s motives.
“They (Israelis) destroyed her house, they killed her grandson – my son. Another grandson is in a wheelchair with an amputated leg,” she said.
Female suicide bombers were a rarity during the first several years of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that has gradually changed. The last suicide bombing, on Nov. 6, was also carried out by a woman in northern Gaza.
But the past few weeks have seen an increase in militant activity by women in Gaza who have served as “human shields” defending the homes of militants that Israel has threatened to destroy.
The escalating violence added urgency to diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict.
In one hopeful sign, the Damascus-based supreme leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, began talks with Egyptian mediators in Cairo on a vital prisoner swap with Israel and formation of a Palestinian national unity government that could end months of crippling Western aid sanctions.
No announcement was made after the talks between Mashaal and the chief of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s point man for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The capture in late June of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked militants set off the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza. Israel insists the soldier must be returned before other issues are discussed.