NETANYA, Israel – A Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and wounded 30 others outside a packed cafe in northern Israel on Sunday -- a blast the Islamic Jihad called "Palestine's gift to the heroic people of Iraq." The violence raised Israeli fears of more bombings as the war in Iraq intensifies.
The militant group said a vanguard of Palestinians has arrived in Baghdad ready to kill American and British soldiers in homicide missions. The claim came a day after a noncommissioned Iraqi army officer driving a taxi detonated explosives at a U.S. checkpoint in Iraq, killing himself and four American soldiers.
The blast in the coastal town of Netanya was the first attempted homicide bombing in Israel in nearly a month and involved five pounds of explosives studded with nails. It occurred during lunchtime outside the popular Cafe London on the downtown pedestrian mall.
Ten of the wounded were Israeli soldiers, including one who stopped the attacker as he tried to enter the cafe, police and the army said. The attacker detonated a nail-studded explosive strapped to his body as panicked customers ran, overturning chairs and tables and shouting, "Terrorist! Terrorist!"
Islamic Jihad identified the attacker as Rami Ghanem, 20, from a West Bank village just across the porous line with Israel. The bombing affirmed "the unity of battle from Palestine to Baghdad in confronting the American-Zionist invasion which targets the entire Arab and Islamic nation," the group said in a statement.
The militants' support for Iraq appeared be a departure from pledges not to get involved in other conflicts. In the past 30 months of fighting with Israel, Islamic Jihad and its sister group Hamas have sent dozens of young men and a few women into Israeli cities, where they've killed hundreds with bombs and bullets.
Hamas also appeared to link the battle against Israel with the fighting in Iraq. Masked Hamas activists at a pro-Iraq march in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday posed before a large placard showing bloodied maps of Palestine and Iraq with a black-clad man strapped with explosives standing between them.
Meanwhile, Hamas leaders met in Gaza City with the Palestinian prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas. One of Abbas' main challenges will be to rein in the militant groups.
Hamas, which opposes peace talks with Israel, had earlier criticized Abbas' appointment and said the militant Islamic group would not take part in his government.
Abbas, in Gaza to form a new Cabinet, also met Sunday with representatives of the militant Popular Front group and the Iraq-backed Arab Liberation Front.
Arriving at the scene of Sunday's attack, police found the attacker's mangled body on the blood-spattered pavement. Detectives wearing plastic gloves fingerprinted his severed hand and sifted through detritus that included broken plates, food, shredded clothing, bits of flesh, and a baby's pacifier.
"There were pieces of bodies," said Alberto Sciunnach, 37, who owns a nearby ice cream parlor. A wounded teenage girl trying to flee collapsed in front of his shop, he said.
Israeli officials have warned that Palestinians could step up attacks during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"The motivation to harm Israel and to help the Iraqi struggle is well known to us and it comes across in all the intelligence reports," said the internal security minister, Tzachi Hanegbi.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets in recent days to show support for Iraq and call on Saddam's forces to fire Scud missiles at Israel, hit by 39 Iraqi rockets in the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has increased cash handouts to the families of Palestinians -- including homicide bombers -- who die in fighting with Israel. The Arab Liberation Front has doled out more than $35 million in Iraqi money to families over the last 30 months.
Sunday's incident was the first such attack in Israel since March 5, when 17 Israelis were killed in a bus blast in the northern port city of Haifa.
Netanya was the site of a bombing that killed 29 people during the Passover holiday a year ago, the deadliest bombing since the outbreak of fighting.
In other violence, Israeli soldiers killed two armed Palestinians who infiltrated from northern Gaza and headed toward a village, the military said. A local army commander said they were armed with rifles and grenades. Palestinians said Israeli tanks and bulldozers crossed into the same part of Gaza.
Earlier, an army patrol in Gaza shot and killed a Palestinian who was in an off-limits area.