NABLUS, West Bank – A Palestinian homicide bomber in the West Bank killed four Israelis after nightfall Thursday, just days after the new Hamas Palestinian government took office and Israel elected a premier who pledges to pull out of much of the West Bank.
A huge blast incinerated a car at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Kedoumim, sending plumes of flame and smoke into the air, the military said.
Police and Israeli settlers pieced together the story: The Israelis picked up a hitchhiker, who was dressed like an Orthodox Jew. He was the bomber and the blast killed everyone in the vehicle.
Officials said four bodies were found after the fire was put out. A fifth body was discovered in the ruins of the vehicle a while later, Israel Radio reported.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, the movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed responsibility. It was the first such attack by Fatah since a cease-fire was declared in February 2005, and it came a day after Abbas swore in the new Palestinian government, dominated by Hamas.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian leadership, but Israel was quick to denounce the bombing.
David Baker, an official in the Israeli Prime Minister's office, said the attack "took place while the Palestinians refused to lift a finger to prevent terror attacks against Israelis, and we saw the results tonight."
Just two hours before the bombing, the Israel Election Commission released the official results from Tuesday's election, giving an extra seat to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party. The party finished with 29 seats of the 120 in the parliament. The hawkish Likud also picked up a seat, giving it 12. The changes were based on counts of votes from soldiers and others not included in the original tally.
Olmert has pledged to pull out of much of the West Bank and move tens of thousands of Jewish settlers from outlying areas in the West Bank to main settlement blocs. He has said he prefers to settle the conflict with the Palestinians through negotiations, but it not, he would take unilateral action to draw Israel's borders.
Olmert has also pledged to take stiff action to halt Palestinian violence. After the bombing, Israeli soldiers blocked roads in the area of the settlement, and Israeli media reported contact with Palestinian security agencies was cut off.
Rafaela Segal said she heard the blast and could see the gas station from her house in the settlement.
"I saw thick smoke rising from the gas station and at first I thought the gas station was on fire," she told Israel Radio. "Security forces are searching the area."
The last suicide bombing in the West Bank was Dec. 29 at an Israeli army checkpoint. An Israeli soldier and two Palestinians were killed in addition to the bomber.
This was the first homicide bombing claimed by a group other than Islamic Jihad since a cease-fire was declared in February 2005.
Kedoumim, in the middle of the West Bank, is the northernmost Israeli settlement after Israel's evacuation of four settlements in the summer.