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Death toll rises in Egypt tourist bombings

More bodies feared missing in hotel rubble


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Israeli army rescue workers search the rubble of the hotel in Taba.
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An Egyptian resort hotel is devastated in an explosion being blamed on a bomb.

Ambulances rush to the chaotic scene outside the bombed hotel.
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TABA, Egypt (CNN) -- Rescuers are searching the wreckage of a Red Sea hotel for survivors after a series of bomb blasts at Egyptian vacation spots frequented by Israelis.

The death toll from Thursday's attacks rose to 34, Egyptian officials said Saturday. Nine of the dead are Egyptians, five are Israelis and 20 remain unidentified, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a news release.

Attackers hit the Taba Hilton and nearby camping areas around Ras al Sultan and Tarabeen.

Egypt's al-Ahram daily newspaper said Saturday that police were questioning 12 about the explosions, which Israel says bore al Qaeda hallmarks.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said dozens of people were being quizzed to gather information but that it was too early to talk about suspects.

More bodies are feared to be buried in the rubble of the luxury hotel at Taba, on the Israeli border. It was the target of the biggest of a series of explosions on the eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula.

"Hope is our fuel. We are hoping there is a pocket of air where someone could be alive," Col. Gideon Bar-on, commander of the Israeli army rescue unit, told Reuters.

He said that in the past, his team has found survivors of earthquakes days after buildings collapsed.

One charred corpse, its clothing still smoldering, was pulled out of the broken masonry and taken away in an Egyptian Red Crescent vehicle. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish workers sifted the wreckage to gather all the human remains for burial.

"It could take days for this fog on the details and identities to clear up," Bar-on said, adding that he expected that 10 more bodies could be pulled out.

Most were killed in the car bomb in Taba, but two Israelis died in one of two near simultaneous bombings further south. Egypt's official news agency said 149 people were wounded.

Two terrorism analysts told CNN they suspect Egyptian Jihad, a group that merged with al Qaeda in the late 1990s.

But Israeli officials said it is not yet clear who was responsible, and U.S. officials warned against jumping to any conclusions.

Three different, little-known or previously unknown groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings.

All three claims appeared on Islamist Web sites. The third came from a group that said it is associated with al Qaeda. CNN cannot authenticate any of the claims.

Witnesses to the explosion at the 400-room Hilton Hotel at Taba -- a Red Sea resort just across Egypt's border with Israel, about 100 yards from a border crossing point -- said there were many children inside when the building's west side was demolished.

A senior Israeli government source said one blast was caused by a truck bomb, set off when a truck crashed through the hotel lobby, and there may have been a second attack by a suicide bomber near the hotel pool.

About two hours after the attack at the hotel, bombs went off at camping areas in Ras al Sultan and the village of Tarabeen near Nuweiba.

Mustafa Afifi, governor of the Sinai Peninsula, told Egyptian television those blasts were the result of truck bombs.

"This illustrates once again the kind of horrible world we live in -- a world in which people go to a hotel in order to spend a holiday with their children, with their families, and get blown up," Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, told CNN on Friday.

He called on the world to "form a coalition which would show zero tolerance toward terrorism" and mobilize against such attacks.

The bombing in Taba marked the deadliest terrorist attack on an Israeli target outside of Israel.

The Israeli government had warned its citizens not to travel to the Sinai Peninsula during the Jewish religious holiday period, citing information that suggested possible plans for a terrorist attack.

But Israel said approximately 15,000 traveled to the region anyway. Gillerman noted there are constant fears of terrorism in Israel and travelers want "to lead their own lives."

Asked whether Israel believed Palestinians were linked to the attack, he said Israel did not want to judge before it had the facts.

"But what we do know is that the Palestinians are the ones who gave the world suicide bombings, who gave the world airplane hijackings and hostage takings.

"It's a Palestinian invention which unfortunately they've exported with great skill all over the world," Gillerman said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned the attacks and said: "This only serves to undermine the Egyptian role in the region and the peace process."

CNN's John Vause and Ben Wedeman contributed to this story.


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