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Militant group claims responsibility for Gaza suicide bombing
CNN Correspondents Jerrold Kessel, Rula Amin and Richard Blystone contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A young Palestinian man on a bicycle changed the tenor of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in the Middle East on Thursday when he rode up to an Israeli army post in Gaza and blew himself up.
The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed the Palestinian and wounded an Israeli soldier. The group is committed to the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state.
Since its creation in the 1970s, the Islamic Jihad had conducted suicide bombings against Israeli targets in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.
The activities of the Islamic Jihad were severely curtailed after 1988 when three of the leaders of the the Bassam Sultan faction were killed in Larnaca, Cyprus by Israeli Mossad agents.
The explosion shattered what had been about 24 hours of relative calm in the monthlong stream of clashes between rock- and firebomb-hurling Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. On Wednesday, for the first time in a week, no fatalities were reported.
At least 139 people -- nearly all of them Palestinians -- have been killed since the violence began following hawkish Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's September 28 visit to a disputed east Jerusalem shrine.
The apparent suicide attacker was identified as 23-year-old Nabil al-Arrir of Gaza, a member of Islamic Jihad. The Israeli Defense Force said his bicycle was packed with five to seven kilograms (11 to 15 pounds) of explosives.
The Israeli army commander in the Gaza Strip, Maj. Gen. Yomtov Samiya, told Israeli army radio that Arrir "hit a wall ... and exploded" as he was "riding his bike toward a school."
Attack prompts Israeli concerns
The assault occurred near the Gush Katif block of Jewish settlements in Gaza and prompted concerns that more such attacks could be on the way. Israeli security immediately requested cooperation from Palestinian security officials to make sure that doesn't happen.
At Arrir's home, his family told CNN's Rula Amin that the didn't know what he was planning. But his brother Yaseen said he wanted to end his life like Nabil.
Calling Arrir a "martyr," Islamic Jihad said in a statement released in Beirut, Lebanon, that it would "continue suicide-operations, as they are the sole way to achieve a liberation of our land and victory."
Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader, Fathi Shekaki, in an operation widely blamed on Israeli commandos.
Israeli officials denounced the bombing as the expected result of the Palestinian Authority's release of scores of jailed militants shortly after the wave of violence began a month ago.
Barak negotiating with hard-liners
The blast was framed by two other elements that could affect the ongoing search for peace: U.S. President Bill Clinton's latest offer to host separate meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the imminent announcement of Barak's new government.
Barak's coalition, shaky before the Camp David meetings in July, crumbled following the failure of those talks to reach an agreement.
With the Knesset set to reconvene on Monday, Barak has been in serious negotiations with Sharon's hard-line Likud party to form a national unity government -- a move Palestinians say will spell the end of the peace process.
Neither Barak nor Arafat responded to Clinton's suggestion that they come to Washington, although aides to both said they were warm to the idea.
Israeli and Palestinian security officials met in several areas on Wednesday, trying to find some way to end the violence. Some of those meetings were described as unproductive, but others were said to be "encouraging."
Sharon's visit to the spot Jews call the Temple Mount -- which the Arabs call Haram as-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary -- reopened millennia-old conflicts over control and ownership of the sacred site.
The site is home to the sole remaining segment of the Jews' ancient Temple of King Solomon as well as a pair of Islamic mosques marking the spot from which the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven.
Of a political nature, the dispute centers on the Palestinians' claim to east Jerusalem as the capital of their independent state, while Israel insists that the city remain undivided and under its control.
Clinton invites Arafat to Washington
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