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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
Suicide attack at Israeli army base
A police marksman overlooks the scene of the blast
Israel had been on high alert for potential attacks
At least eight people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide bomb attack near an army base in central Israel, police say.

The blast took place at 1800 (1500 GMT) near the Tzrifin Israeli Defence Force base, 15 kilometres south-east of Tel Aviv, at a spot where soldiers gather to hitch-hike home on leave.

This is the first militant attack inside Israel since Israeli forces at the weekend tried to assassinate the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Earlier on Tuesday, three Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed when Israeli forces surrounded a building in Hebron.

'Response to Israel'

Reports say as many as 30 people have been injured, 15 of them seriously.

They are being treated at the Assaf Harofeh Hospital, situated opposite the site of the blast.

Map of the region
The bomber is believed to be among the eight killed.

Initial reports, carried by Haaretz's online edition, suggest the suicide bomber was carrying a bag containing an explosive device weighing two to three kilograms and containing large amounts of shrapnel.

It is not clear how the bomber reached the scene of the blast.

No group has said they carried out the attack.

But Hamas' political leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi said the blast at the defence base was a response to Israel's actions.

"Hamas will not stand silently in front of bloodshed of Palestinians, and we have said many times that Israelis should pay the price of their terror action against our innocents, against the attempted assassination and targeting of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the assassination of Mr Abu Shanab, the targeting of Ismael Hania. So the Israelis, we said that they must pay the price of their crimes," he said.

Blast in Hebron
Israeli forces blasted the building in Hebron
David Baker, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said: "The attack today is further indication that the Palestinian Authority is doing absolutely nothing whatsoever to rein in terrorists or to dismantle the terror infrastructure in their areas".

But Yasser Arafat's nominee as Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, condemned "all acts of killing that target innocents, whether they be Palestinians... or the Israelis who were victims of today's explosion".

"Such incidents confirm the necessity for both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to...examine the most effective ways to put an end to the killing," Mr Qurei said.

Hebron raid

Israeli forces surrounded a building in Hebron early on Tuesday as part of a search for militants in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Two bodies which have yet to be identified were later discovered in the building.

During the raid the forces fired tank shells. Shrapnel from one shell killed the 12-year-old, who was in a nearby building.

The army later blew up the building where the suspected militants were killed.

Israel has stepped up attacks on militant leaders since a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem bus on 19 August, killing 22 people.

At least 11 Hamas militants and four civilian bystanders have been killed in missile strikes in Gaza since the Jerusalem bus bombing.




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