ASHDOD, Israel (AP) — Two Palestinian suicide
bombers blew themselves up in this closely guarded Israeli port
yesterday, killing 11 Israelis and wounding 18 in the first deadly
attack on a strategic installation in more than three years of
Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Ryan Nowak
Medical personnel yesterday carry a wounded person away from the scene of an attack by two Palestinian suicide bombers in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod. (AP PHOTO)

The bombings raised serious questions about Israel’s
vulnerability. Police said the bombers may have been trying to blow
themselves up near chemicals, causing far greater loss of life.

The bombers were identified as residents of a Gaza refugee camp
and would be the first militants from Gaza to infiltrate into
Israel during the current round of violence. The volatile coastal
strip is surrounded by a fence and subject to stringent
security.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called off a meeting with
his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, that had tentatively
been set for tomorrow. Preparatory talks set for today were also
called off, a Sharon aide said.

Yesterday’s bombings could signal that bombers were trying
to carry out a so-called “mega attack.” Many of the
bombings since 2000 targeted buses, cafes and markets, where a
large number of people gather, but the death toll in each attack
never rose above 30. In recent months, security forces said they
had stopped dozens of planned attacks every day.

“They found a weak point and they exploited it,”
Israeli Cabinet Minister Yosef Paritzky said. “There are many
people coming and going. It is impossible to seal the entire
country hermetically.”

Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, militants with
links to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, claimed joint
responsibility for the attack.

Sami Pinto, a portworker, said that when he entered the port, he
saw smoke from the explosions near the fence of the facility and
one in a workshop inside the port.

“One of our workers who was lightly wounded told me that
the terrorist came in and asked for water and the moment he showed
him where there was a tap he blew up,” Pinto said.

Eleven were killed in addition to the bombers, whose bodies were
found near the scene of the blasts, authorities said.

Moshe Karadi, police chief of southern Israel, said the bombers
were using a different type of bomb than usual and may have been
trying to blow themselves up next to tanks of bromide or other
dangerous chemicals stored in the port, causing far greater
casualties as clouds of poisonous gas billow about. The explosions
went off some way from the chemical storage area, possibly
prematurely.

All Palestinian bombers since 2000 came from the West Bank,
which has a much more porous border with Israel.

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