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January 05, 2003

Three Groups Lay Claim to Latest Bombing

JENIN, West Bank, Jan 5 (AFP) - Three Palestinian groups on Sunday claimed a double suicide bombing in downtown Tel Aviv during the evening rush hour that left at least 19 fatal victims.

The radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said it had sent in two suicide bombers, in a telephone call to AFP in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. The caller said the group would later issue an official statement.

But Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah, speaking on Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, stopped short of claiming responsibility while hailing the operation.

"So far we have no information to confirm or deny the responsibility of the Jerusalem Brigades (Islamic Jihad's armed wing) for this operation," he said. "So far no official statement has been published by the Jerusalem Brigades claiming this operation," he said, adding that he considered the attack a "heroic operation".

Shortly afterwards, an anonymous caller claiming to represent the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the larger Islamic group Hamas, telephoned AFP in Jerusalem and claimed the attack. "We declare responsibility for the attack in Tel Aviv. We promise the Israeli occupation army more attacks in the next month," said the caller, speaking in English.

But in Gaza City, senior Hamas figure Abdel Aziz Rantissi was unable to confirm his organization's involvement. "Knowing who was behind the operation does not interest us," he said. "What is important is that the Palestinian people will pursue its resistance whatever the magnitude of the enemy's terrorism."

Two hours later, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, also claimed the attack in a statement faxed to AFP in Gaza City, giving the names of the two alleged bombers. "Two of our bombers succeeded in passing the Zionist checkpoints and reaching Tel Aviv to carry out the double suicide bombings," the statemenmt said. It named the bombers as Buraq Khalifa and Tamir al-Nuri, both from the northern West Bank city of Nablus, whose Balata refugee camp is a bastion for the hardline secular group. "We will continue our resistance. We have done our duty to avenge the Zionist massacres and the destruction of the martyrs' homes," it said in reference to Israel's policy of demolishing the homes of militants.

Rival groups often lay claim to the same attack after bombings.