Egyptians Take Over Bombings Probe

With Israeli rescue workers gone, the Egyptian military sealed off a bombed luxury hotel Monday to clear more debris and collect evidence for investigators tracing the explosives and vehicles used in deadly attacks that targeted Israeli tourists.

Egyptian security officials said Sunday that a Bedouin (search) tribesman has confessed to selling explosives that might have been used in the three Sinai resort car bombings that killed at least 34 people. They said investigators also were looking into Palestinian militant involvement.

The deadliest of the three attacks was at the Taba Hilton (search), where the front rooms on a 10-story wing of the hotel were sheared off.

David Michels, chief executive officer of Hilton Group PLC, visited the scene over the weekend, meeting with Egyptian officials and Hilton employees. Hilton said staff had been paid two months' salary while the damage is assessed.

"The investigation is now in the hands of the authorities," Michels said in a statement Monday. "Our role is to support the local authorities to the best of our ability."

Three car bombs, each packed with 440 pounds of explosives, exploded Thursday night, one at the Taba Hilton just south of the Egypt-Israel border and two at Ras Shitan (search), a town of beach bungalows 35 miles south on the Red Sea.

Egypt's Interior Ministry put the death toll at 34, including 11 Israelis, eight Egyptians, one Russian, two Italians and 12 victims whose identities and nationalities remained unconfirmed. The dead also were believed to include eastern Europeans.

Tourism officials said the attacks apparently were not keeping travelers away. Despite the Russian victim, 1,000 Russians arrived in the Sinai on Friday and another 3,454 on Saturday, according to Ahmed el Khadem, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh said that in addition to the Isuzu pickup truck that exploded at the hotel, a suicide bomber inside detonated another bomb.

"To our relief, the bomber who entered the hotel did not enter the hotel restaurants, something which would have brought down at least half the hotel," he said.

Israeli rescue and recovery crews finished their work at the shattered Hilton and went home Sunday evening, saying prayers for the dead as Egyptian civil defense officers cleared the rubble with axes and sledgehammers under generator-powered floodlights.

The site was closed on Monday, and no excavations could be seen.

An Egyptian investigator told The Associated Press that the Bedouin tribesman who was cooperating with police said he had sold explosives to buyers assuming they would be sent to the Palestinian territories.

Israeli officials have complained in the past of weapons and explosives being smuggled into the Gaza strip from Sinai.

Egyptian security officials said some of dozens of Bedouins detained for questioning after the attacks have been cooperating with authorities.

Sinai is inhabited by about 10 semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes, whose population is estimated at about 4,000. Their livelihood depends on tourism and many tribesmen are known for their knowledge of Sinai's vast deserts and mountain ranges. Authorities accuse some of smuggling weapons, drugs and people across Egypt's border with Israel and Gaza.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials also told AP that Egyptian security and intelligence officers have been discussing the attacks with officials from the Palestinian factions Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad (search).

The officials said Egypt is not suggesting involvement by the two factions, but rather are probing the possibility disgruntled defectors from the groups might have been involved.