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Suicide Bomber Kills 4 in Israel - 2004-01-14

A Palestinian suicide bombing at the main border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip has killed four people and left seven others injured, three of them are reported to be in serious condition.

Palestinian witnesses say the explosion occurred inside the checkpoint building shortly after 1000 UTC local time just after a group of four women had entered. Israeli soldiers on the scene then evacuated the building and shut down the border crossing.

Israel radio says all the dead were Israelis. At least two of the wounded were said to have been Palestinians.

The Islamic militant group Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, released a joint statement claiming responsibility. They identified the bomber as 21-year-old Reem Raishi a member of Hamas.

The Reuters News Agency quotes Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as saying it was the first time Hamas has used a female suicide bomber. The cleric called it a new development in resistance against the enemy. He said resistance will escalate against this enemy until they leave our land and homeland.

The Erez crossing is the main entry point for Gaza Palestinians who work in Israel but few Palestinians were reported to have been in the building at the time of the explosion. Erez has been the scene of occasional attacks.

Last October, three American security guards were killed in the Gaza Strip just outside the checkpoint when the vehicle they were riding in was blown apart by an explosive device.

The Erez crossing is one of the last remaining expressions of official cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Wednesday's bombing was the first since December 25 when four Israelis were killed in a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. It comes just hours after an Israeli man was shot dead in an ambush near the West Bank town of Ramallah. Three others were injured in the shooting, which the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said it carried out in retaliation for recent Israeli military operations in Palestinian areas.