Israel arrests father of West Bank suicide bomber

Israel Materials 6 February 2008 12:24 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Israel overnight arrested the father of one of two suicide bombers who killed an Israeli woman in the southern Israeli town of Dimona earlier this week, Voice of Palestine Radio reported Wednesday.

Salim Hirbawi, the father of Mohammed Hirbawi, was arrested in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The arrest came after the radical Islamic Hamas movement formally claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing early Tuesday evening, more than 30 hours after the Monday morning attack.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, had claimed responsibility a day earlier in conjunction with the armed wing of the radical left Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

They identified the two bombers as al-Aqsa member Louai Laghwani and PFLP-member Moussa Arafat, both from Gaza.

But Hamas now said the bombers were Mohammed Hirbawi and Shadi Zughayar from Hebron.

Israelis now fear the two Gaza attackers, whose families already set up mourning tents, are still at large. Police heightened their alert to level C, the second highest, Monday evening.

The suicide bombing in Israel was the first in Israel in just over a year.

It is also the first to be claimed by Hamas since August 2004, when two suicide bombers killed 16 Israelis on buses in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

Hamas had suspended its suicide bombings when it decided to run for the first time in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

But in the statement posted on the website of its armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, and e-mailed to reporters, it threatened more suicide bombings were to come.

"The heroic operation comes ... in response to the barbaric and inhumane siege the sinful and aggressive state imposes on our people in the Gaza Strip," the statement said, adding, "We still have more, God willing."

The statement said Hamas was late to announce its claim of responsibility "for security reasons and to confuse the enemy."

"We were surprised when the brothers in some military wings hurried to claim responsibility," it said, referring to the al-Aqsa and PFLP claim.

Israel already carried out some arrests in Hebron Monday night. Israel's controversial security barrier is incomplete in the southern West Bank and the Hamas bombers likely passed through one of several breaches in the area.

It was initially believed the two Gaza al-Aqsa and PFLP members infiltrated Israel via the Sinai peninsula, after crossing the strip's breached border with Egypt.