Attacks on Israelis in Sinai: Scores killed and wounded; Unknown groups claim credit
Blasts from a car bomb hit a resort hotel in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula close to the border with Israel, where Israelis were vacationing at the end of a Jewish holiday Thursday night, officials said. There were conflicting reports on the death toll.
Officials initially reported 30 to 35 dead, but by Friday morning a senior Israeli army officer, Yair Naveh, said rescuers had located 19 bodies in the rubble and 38 Israelis were missing. Egypt said at least 12 Egyptians were dead, The AP reported.
The explosions in Hilton Taba Hotel were followed by two smaller blasts at other tourist sites in the Sinai that killed at least two Israelis, apparently caused by a car bomb and a suicide bomber. Egyptian hospital officials said four people were killed in those explosions.
An official at Taba Hospital said his institution had taken in 25 bodies from the Taba explosion and two more from Ras Shitan. An official at the Nuweiba hospital said two more bodies arrived there.
Two bombs exploded in quick succession at the Taba Hilton. A car laden with explosives drove into the lobby of the hotel and detonated, while a suicide bomber blew up near the hotel swimming pool, an Israeli official said.
The Taba blast collapsed a 10-story wing of the luxury Hilton hotel built by Israel when it controlled Taba from 1967 to 1989. Israelis described a chaotic scene as the explosion brought the top floors of the hotel crashing into the lobby.
An Egyptian government spokesman said at least 30 people were killed, although the Interior Ministry later said it could confirm the deaths of only 12 Egyptians. Israeli news media initially cited officials saying up to 35 people were killed, but on Friday Naveh said rescuers had located 19 bodies, including seven still beneath the rubble.
He said there was still hope of finding people alive in the rubble Friday "because there are several air pockets."
Egypt said more than 160 people were wounded, and Naveh said 122 injured had been taken to Israel for treatment. Egypt's health minister said a Briton and several Russians were among the injured.
The explosions came a month after the Israeli government urged citizens not to visit Sinai, citing a "concrete terror threat" to tourists in an area.
Four hours after the blast in Taba, Israel's military took command of the scene, according to the army spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron.
Just before midnight, two smaller blasts struck the area of Ras Shitan, a camping area near the town of Nuweiba south of Taba, witnesses said.
On Friday, the charred hulks of Toyota pickup trucks could be seen at the two sites.
Two previously unknown groups said they carried out the attacks.
Tawhid Islamic Brigades published a claim on a Web site that has been used frequently for such claims from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And Jamaa Al-Islamiya Al-Alamiya, (World Islamic Group), called an international news agency in Jerusalem. An Islamist internet site said four brothers carried out the Sinai attacks to avenge Israel's killing earlier this year of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady suggested the blasts were related to the current Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. "We condemn these attacks, which have harmed many people."
The security adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Jibril Rajoub, asserted to Al-Jazeera television that no Palestinian factions were responsible for the explosions. (albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)