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Militants call Israel suicide bomb 'gift to Iraq'

At least 49 injured in Netanya attack

Emergency workers survey the scene of the blast.
Emergency workers survey the scene of the blast.

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CNN's Kelly Wallace says the suicide bombing in Netanya ended a lull that began with the war in Iraq (March 30)
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NETANYA, Israel (CNN) -- A suicide bomb that injured dozens in northern Israel Sunday was "a gift to the Iraqi people," according to a Palestinian militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bombing, which took place at a busy cafe in the coastal town of Netanya, injured at least 49, five of them seriously, Israeli police and ambulance services said. Ten Israeli soldiers were among the injured.

An Israeli government official called the attack "another indication the Palestinian terror campaign against Israeli civilians continues. Palestinian terrorists continue to make every effort to strike at Israelis in the heart of our cities. Israel will take whatever measures are necessary to prevent such attacks from occurring against us."

In a leaflet, the Islamic Jihad said the attack was "a gift to the Iraqi people from Palestine."

Moreover, the group said it was "happy to announce" it had sent a fighting force to Iraq, a "kamikaze brigade" that had already arrived in Baghdad.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. It has been declared a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department.

The bomber was identified as Jamil Ranem, a Palestinian from Tulkarem, Islamic Jihad sources told CNN. The sources said the group is calling for Palestinians to act against coalition forces in Iraq and for those who can to act against Israeli civilians in a way to show solidarity with the Iraqi people. A report on Iraqi TV praised the mission.

The Palestinian Authority moved quickly to condemn the bombing and urged the so-called Mideast Quartet to revive its efforts to create a "road map" to peace in the Middle East.

Elsewhere in the region Sunday, three Palestinians were killed by Israel Defense Forces in incidents in the Gaza Strip and on the Israeli side of a fence marking the Gaza border.

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Two Palestinians crossed into Israel from Gaza and were shot to death by IDF forces as they headed toward Kibutz Erez armed with Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades, Israeli military sources said.

IDF soldiers also killed a Palestinian and wounded four others whom the IDF identified as "suspicious figures" in an area of central Gaza closed off to Palestinians.

The Palestinians were talking on cellular phones and using binoculars to observe a road that connects two Israeli settlements, possibly gathering information for future terrorist activities, the IDF said.

The Palestinians were shot while trying to run away after the Israelis had told them to stop and had fired warning shots, the IDF said. It said that three other Palestinians escaped.

Israel's last suicide bombing happened in the northern port city of Haifa on March 5, when an attacker set off an explosion that destroyed a suburban bus, killing 17 people and injuring at least 40 others.

Witnesses told CNN's Jerrold Kessel that a security guard or Israeli soldier stopped the suicide bomber from entering the cafe. The bomber then detonated his explosive outside the eatery, Israeli media reported.

The attack occurred before 1 p.m. (5 a.m. EST) at the London Cafe in downtown Netanya's Independence Square. Many of the injured were sitting outside the eatery, enjoying the day's fair weather. The bomber's body was found outside the cafe, witnesses said.

Israel has been on a heightened state of alert since a U.S.-led coalition launched a war against Iraq on March 19.

"This is another attempt to paralyze the Israeli society and to cause death," said Israeli Police Minister Tsahi Hanegbi. "We knew in advance that there will be an attempt to take advantage of the war in Iraq in order to cause casualties in the country.

"Fortunately, we don't have many casualties today. But we're still expecting more problematic events during the time of the conflict in Iraq," Hanegbi said.

A senior Bush administration official said, "We condemn this act of terrorism in the strongest terms."

The leaflet claiming responsibility for the attack said, "This mission comes on the 27th annual day that marks the Land Day. This is our answer to the Israeli crimes against our people."

Land Day is observed in Israel and the Palestinian territories on March 30. Israeli Arabs hold annual protests on the day to mark what they claim were Israeli land seizures after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Netanya is north of Tel Aviv, only a few miles from the West Bank. The city has been the target of a number of suicide bombings and attacks in the past. One of the worst, known as the Passover suicide blast, happened March 27, 2002.

In that incident, a suicide bomber walked into the seaside Park Hotel and made his way toward a dining room, where police say 227 people were having their Seder meal. Twenty-nine of the bomber's victims died and more than 150 were injured.

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