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Hamas Claims Responsibility for 1 of 2 Suicide Bombings Against Israeli Targets - 2003-08-12

The Islamic militant group Hamas has claimed responsibility for one of two back-to-back suicide bombings against Israeli targets, marking its first open violation of a unilateral truce that was declared in June. The attacks killed at least two Israelis and wounded 13 others.

The claim of responsibility was issued on the website of Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, a group that frequently carries out suicide bombings.

The group said it was behind the bombing at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Ariel and named the suicide bomber as one of the organization's activists from Nablus.

The organization said the attack was meant to avenge the killing of two Hamas activists in a raid by Israeli soldiers Friday in Nablus.

Less than an hour earlier, another Palestinian blew himself up outside a supermarket in Rosh Ha'ayin, a town in central Israel.

Israeli security officials say they believe this bombing was the work of renegade elements in the armed wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Following the bombings, Israel announced it had suspended the release of 80 Palestinian prisoners, who were to be set free during the day.

In response to the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he also held the Palestinian leadership directly responsible for the latest killings. A spokesman for Mr. Sharon said the bombings were the result of, what he called, inaction on the part of the Palestinian Authority, which he said had not dismantled terrorist organizations.

The spokesman said Israel is calling for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to arrest members of militant Palestinian groups, disarm them, and break up their organizations.

Mr. Abbas condemned the attacks and cut short his tour of Arab Gulf states to return to the Palestinian areas.

He also condemned what he called "Israeli provocations." But he stressed that the Palestinian Authority will strive to uphold the self-declared truce by Palestinian armed groups and "maintain peace in the region."