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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 17:59 GMT
First Palestinian woman suicide bomber
Bomb attack in west Jerusalem on Sunday
Sunday saw the third attack in Jerusalem in a week
A young Palestinian woman carried out a suicide bombing in central Jerusalem on Sunday - the first time a woman has been used in nearly 10 years of suicide attacks in Israel.

The attack is being seen as a significant departure for Palestinian militant groups, which have previously banned women from becoming suicide bombers.

During the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in May 2000, Hezbollah used women suicide bombers. This practice was later stopped.

Young Palestinian women, though, have become increasingly radicalised during the current intifada - particularly those who have lost relatives in the violence.

Identity confirmed

Confirmation of the identity of Sunday's bomber did not come until Wednesday, when relatives identified her as Wafa Idris, a 28-year-old divorced paramedic.

Wafa Idris
Wafa Idris was the first female Palestinian suicide bomber
The al-Aqsa Brigades militant faction, part of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, also published a leaflet saying she had carried out the bombing in response to Israeli military actions.

More than 30 men, including one Arab Israeli, have blown themselves up since the current conflict began in September 2000, killing dozens of Israelis and wounding hundreds.

New security measures?

Israeli security services will now need to rebuild their profile of potential suicide bombers and tighten security checks of women at roadblocks.

Although there have been no Palestinian women suicide bombers, women have worked as accomplices on terrorist operations during the current intifada.

Woman tend to arouse fewer suspicions.

The Palestinian militant groups may have been seeking to exploit the Israeli security forces' hesitation to search Muslim women.

Palestinian men at roadblocks and elsewhere are rigorously checked. Women are searched much less thoroughly because of the sensitivities involved.

Some analysts have pointed out that the possibility of women suicide bombers may make things more difficult for Israeli soldiers, but it also illustrates that there is a wider range of Palestinians desperate or angry enough to carry out a suicide mission.

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