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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Bomber strikes Israeli settlement
Car burns outside Kedumim
The bombed-out car burned furiously for about an hour
A Palestinian suicide bomber has killed himself and four Israelis by the Jewish settlement of Kedumim in the West Bank.

Israeli investigators said the bomber had hitched a ride while dressed as an orthodox Jew, before detonating his explosives inside the vehicle.

The attack was the first lethal suicide bombing this year and comes two days after the Israeli general election.

Hours later Israeli aircraft carried out strikes on militant targets in the northern Gaza Strip, the military said.

No casualties were reported in the attack, which targeted sites allegedly used by Palestinian militants to fire rockets into Israel.

A militant offshoot of the Palestinian Fatah political movement has said it carried out the bomb attack near Kedumim.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade named the bomber as Ahmed Masharka, from the city of Hebron in the West Bank.

'Natural response'

The explosion took place just after nightfall, near a petrol station outside the settlement.

Rescue workers said the three bodies immediately found at the scene were travelling in the car when the bomber detonated his explosives.

A fifth body was found nearby several hours later but remained unidentified.

It is unclear if the bomber was travelling alone in the car when his device exploded, or whether he had hitched a ride in the vehicle with three Israelis.

Israeli spokesman David Baker blamed the Palestinian Authority for the bombing.

"The Palestinians refused to lift a finger to prevent terror attacks against Israelis, and we saw the results tonight."

But Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri said Israel's policies invited attacks.

"It was a natural response to the Israeli crimes, to the continued Israeli killing, incursions and arrests," he said.

"Our Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves."

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