JERUSALEM – Israeli air and ground attacks in the Gaza Strip killed nine Hamas fighters Tuesday as the Palestinian movement asserted responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed an Israeli woman a day earlier.
Monday’s suicide bombing in the southern Israel town of Dimona would be the first by the militant group in Israel since 2004.
Hamas said the two Palestinians who carried out the attack were from the West Bank city of Hebron. Many Israelis speculated Monday that the bomber and an accomplice had left Gaza after Palestinians last month demolished much of the border wall that divides the territory from Egypt, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to exit and re-enter the strip unhindered.
Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since June, does not recognize Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. Suicide bombers affiliated with the group killed hundreds of Israelis from the mid-1990s until Hamas announced a 2005 cease-fire.
Israeli police said Tuesday they were not ready to say who carried out Monday’s suicide bombing. After one bomber detonated explosives, killing a woman later identified as Lyubov Razdolskaya, 73, who worked in the physics department of Ben Gurion University, police shot and killed an accomplice before he could trigger his suicide belt.
“There’s still an investigation into who they are and where they came from,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was less circumspect. He said the country would find means to end “terror from Hebron and Qassams from Gaza,” referring to crude rockets fired into southern Israel.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, an armed group within Hamas, said it had carried out the bombing, and he named two men from Hebron as the perpetrators.
“We delayed announcing for 30 hours for security reasons and to let the Israelis wonder,” Abu Obeida said. Hamas also renewed warnings of more suicide attacks. “If Israelis continue their shelling and shelling and escalation … we believe that all shapes of resistance must be continued,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
At least four Palestinian militant groups have asserted responsibility for Monday’s suicide bombing. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah political movement, identified two young Gazans it said had carried out the attack. The men’s families confirmed the two were missing. A spokesman for the brigades, Abu Walid, stood by his group’s assertion late Tuesday.
Israeli newspapers said the competing claims could indicate that more than one group has sent fighters to attack in Israel.
Israel has been on heightened security alert since the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was breached Jan. 23. Hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents entered Egypt, most to load up on fuel and other goods that have grown scarce because of Israeli restrictions on Gaza.
Egyptian forces built new walls and had closed the border by Monday.
Israel has said the restrictions on fuel and other deliveries to Gaza will stand until Hamas ends rocket attacks.
Early Tuesday, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian gunmen in Gaza.
The military said at least eight rockets landed in southern Israel during the day, hitting a candle factory, wood shop and home. Shrapnel injured four Israelis.
Israeli missiles struck a police station in the town of Khan Younis, killing seven people.
Palestinian officials said the dead included policemen and members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.