DIMONA, Israel – Dr. Baruch Mandelzweig knelt and ripped open the jacket of a man critically wounded in a suicide bombing, ready to begin emergency treatment. He cleared the victim’s airway, then was struck by a shocking sight – an explosive belt.
The wounded man was a second attacker, knocked out by the force of the initial blast Monday, which killed an Israeli woman and wounded 11 other people in this desert town near Israel’s fortified nuclear reactor. It was the first suicide attack inside Israel in more than a year.
The Israeli doctor jumped away as the man began waving his arms, and a police officer moved in, shooting the would-be bomber dead before he could detonate his explosives.
“His head was moving,” Mandelzweig told Israel’s Army Radio. “We started to treat him and then we saw an explosive belt. … I managed to see a small gas canister and small plastic bags attached to his body.”
In Gaza, gunmen fired in the air and relatives of the bombers passed out sweets to celebrate the bombing. An offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement claimed responsibility.
Abbas condemned the violence from his West Bank stronghold. Israeli officials said peace talks with Abbas would continue, but vowed to push forward with the country’s military campaign in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.
Hours after the bombing, an Israeli aircraft attacked a car in Gaza, killing a senior militant who was involved in rocket attacks on Israel.
Speaking to parliament, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is facing a “constant war” against Gaza militants. “This war will continue. Terrorism will be hit. We will not relent,” he said.
While Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of suicide bombings since 2000, Monday’s attack was the first in Dimona, a working class town of 37,000 in the Negev desert that houses Israel’s nuclear reactor. The explosion took place in a shopping center about six miles from the facility.
Israeli officials dismissed suggestions the reactor might have been the target. The facility, where atomic weapons are believed to have been developed, is heavily guarded, enclosed by a 10-foot barbed-wire fence and located a mile and a half down a road that is closed to the public. Israel neither admits nor denies it has nuclear arms.