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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 08:52 GMT
Syria denies Israel attack role
Scene from the bombing
The attack has put the truce under strain
Syria has denied it was involved in a suicide bomb attack on a night club in Tel Aviv that killed four people.

The Damascus office of Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad has said it carried out Friday's attack.

But a Syrian foreign ministry official said his country had no hand in the attack and had shut down Islamic Jihad's Damascus office.

Israel's defence minister said Syria was behind the attack but he did not threaten any immediate retaliation.

The Israeli accusation adds to the pressure on the Syrian government, already under suspicion for possibly ordering the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Israel sees Syria and the Islamic Jihad movement as those standing behind the murderous attack in Tel Aviv
Shaul Mofaz
Israel Defence Minister

The Tel Aviv blast was the first major blow to a truce agreed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier this month.

Seven people have been detained by Israeli and Palestinian forces over the bombing, which injured about 50 people in addition those killed.

The leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack and promised to "hunt down" those responsible.

Jihad splits?

A number of Palestinian groups closed their offices in Syria a couple of years ago after Washington challenged the Syrian government on the issue.

But since then, the Syrian authorities have often appeared at the very least to be turning a blind eye to the activities of Palestinian militants in this country, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Damascus.

The mother of the suicide bomber shows a picture of her son
The bomber apparently released a video vowing to attack

A statement issued by the office of Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said: "Israel sees Syria and the Islamic Jihad movement as those standing behind the murderous attack in Tel Aviv."

He accused Syria of playing host to terrorist organisations and encouraging them to carry out attacks.

Mr Mofaz's statement came hours after an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus told news agencies the bombing was in retaliation for Israel's violation of the truce.

"The calm period with the [Palestinian] Authority was an agreement for a month and that has ended," the official, who gave his name as Abu Tareq, told the Associated Press.

Islamic Jihad officials in the West Bank and Beirut echoed the claim, but the group's leadership in Gaza continued to deny that it was responsible, suggesting a split, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem.

An Israeli spokesman at its London embassy told the BBC his country would try diplomacy before resorting to military means.

Israel has previously attacked Syrian installations it believed were being used by Damascus-based Islamic groups masterminding attacks inside Israel.

In 2003, Israeli warplanes bombed a Damascus-area Islamic Jihad base in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed 19 people at a restaurant in Haifa.

Last September, a leader of the militant group Hamas was assassinated in Damascus in what was believed to have been an Israeli attack.

Long-standing tension between Israel and Syria focuses on the Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria which Israel seized in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Mr Mofaz also announced that Israel was freezing plans to hand over control of five West Bank towns to Palestinian security forces, which had been promised after the 8 February ceasefire.


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