A Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least five people and wounded dozens outside a shopping mall in an Israeli coastal town yesterday in the first attack on its kind in six weeks.
Lebanon's Hizbollah television said the Islamic Jihad group's military wing, the Jerusalem Brigades, claimed responsibility for attack in a telephone call to the station.
Earlier, a Gaza radio station said Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for bombing in Netanya.
"There was a boom and there was a flash. Seconds later, people were lying on the ground, some wounded and some dead," witness Yisrael Klein told Channel Two television. "The most horrific sight was the severed head of the terrorist."
Emergency officials put the death toll at five and said at least 40 people were wounded, seven of them seriously.
Bodies lay covered with blankets at the entrance to the Sharon mall in Netanya, the frequent target of suicide bombings during a five-year-old Palestinian uprising.
It was the first such bombing since October 26, when a suicide bomber killed six people in the coastal city of Hadera, just north of Netanya.
The latest attack dealt another blow to a shaky ceasefire Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared in February.
"A suicide bomber who tried to enter the Sharon mall in Netanya was spotted by passersby after he raised their suspicions," said Avi Sasson, deputy police chief in the area.
"Two policemen at the scene pulled out their guns and ordered him to halt and to take his hands out of his pockets. At that stage, he blew himself up," he said.
The bombing could complicate the run-up to Israeli and Palestinian elections in coming months.
Palestinian officials quickly denounced the bombing.
"The Palestinian Authority condemns the attack, and says this harms Palestinian interests and aims at sabotaging efforts exerted to revive the peace process," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Abbas is struggling to instil order in Palestinian areas ahead of a January parliamentary election whose preliminary stages have already been marred by internal violence.
Sharon is seeking re-election as head of a new centrist party he founded after carrying out an Israeli pullout from Gaza in September. He has refused to resume peace talks with the Palestinians until they rein in militants.