Palestinians say there is a connection between the Sinai attacks and Israel's policy of killing Palestinians while maintaining "business as usual" with Arab and Muslim countries, such as Egypt.

Egypt and Jordan have established diplomatic and economic ties with Israel and both countries host many Israeli tourists every year.

The explosions, which hit the Hilton hotel in the Taba resort and a restaurant further down the Sinai peninsula, killed 36 people, including 26 Israelis and seven Egyptians, and injured many others.

Thirty people are believed buried under the rubble.

A group calling itself Brigades of the Martyr Abd Allah Azzam and claiming to be part of al-Qaida claimed responsibility on Friday for the bomb blasts, according to an Islamist website.

 

More Palestinians killed

Meanwhile, across the border in the northern Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were killed in the latest Israeli military action on Friday.

Scenes of ongoing Israeli attacks
in Gaza have transfixed Arabs

Witnesses said nine-year-old Samah Nassar was shot in the chest when Israeli tanks and armoured carriers opened fire into the town of Bait Hanun.

Earlier, a 13-year-old boy died of his wounds sustained the day before from Israeli tank shelling also in Bait Hanun.

Muhammad Subuh, 17, and Yasir al-Khatib, 18, were killed in an Israeli air strike on Jabalya, according to witnesses who said that two others were wounded in the attack.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Marzuk Abu Udwan, 50, was gunned down as he was working in a hothouse in the Jewish settlement of Rafah Yam, medics and Israeli military sources said.

The attacks bring to 97 the number of Palestinians killed in the past nine days. Three Israelis were also killed.

Sinai-Gaza connection

Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian columnist and political analyst, said: "I have no doubt in my mind that what happened in Sinai and what has been taking place in northern Gaza are inextricably entwined. 

"Hamas' commitment
of fighting inside Palestine is absolute. Hamas will not help Israel export its security, economic or political crises outside Palestine"

Fawzi Barhum,
Hamas spokesman

"The killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza leads to the killing of innocent Israeli civilians. It is a macabre equation and Israel is first and foremost to blame for that."

In a telephone interview with Aljazeera.net on Friday morning, al-Masri lashed out at the Israeli government for "sending tourists to the Arab world while slaughtering Palestinian children in Gaza".

"They should have realised that there is deep hatred of Israel throughout the Arab-Muslim world because of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians," he said.

Al-Masri said he had no idea which organisation or group carried out the bombings at Taba. 

Many enemies

However, he pointed out that Israel had many enemies and that Israeli actions, especially the ongoing military campaign in Gaza, was "pushing many Arabs and Muslims to the edge".

"When Arabs and Muslims in neighbouring countries switch on their TV sets and see the gruesome images of decapitated children and mutilated women in Gaza, how do you think they will react?"

Hilton Taba resort in south Sinai
was popular with Israeli tourists

Al-Qaida leaders, including number two Ayman al-Zawahri, have been increasingly focused on the "genocide in Palestine"  to highlight their anti-US campaign.

According to al-Masri, the increasing involvement of al-Qaida and like-minded organisations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could "result in a drastic escalation of tension and violence, not only in Palestine but all over the world".

"No other cause would enhance the image and strengthen the popularity of al-Qaida," he added.

Hamas' standpoint

For its part, the main Palestinian Islamic resistance group Hamas has said it had nothing to do with the Sinai bombings, although its spokesman said he was not at all surprised by the attacks.

Egypt requested that Israeli
rescue teams help in the search

"Hamas' resistance strategy is very clear. It is in Palestine only," Fawzi Barhum, the Hamas spokesman, told Aljazeera from Gaza on Friday.

"Our conflict with the Israeli-Zionist entity is because they occupied our lands, tarnished our sanctuaries and killed our people," he said.

Barhum said Israel might try to lure Hamas outside Palestine, but "we respect the Arab states and their leaderships, especially the neighbouring countries".
 
He said, "Hamas' commitment of fighting inside Palestine is absolute. Hamas will not help Israel export its security, economic or political crises outside Palestine."

But Israeli officials are less than impressed by the professed non-involvement of Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups in the Sinai bombings.

"Terror is terror regardless of the perpetrator," said Amira Oron of the Israeli foreign ministry.

Israeli counterpoint

There should be no connection between "what is happening in the territories and the Taba bombings," Oron told Aljazeera.net.

Nearly 33 children have been
killed in the Israeli onslaught

She said: "I know very well that the Arab people would jump and say 'it is a reaction to what Israel is doing in Gaza'. But this is not exactly true because terror happens in other places such as Madrid and Istanbul."

Oron pointed out that the Israeli domestic intelligence service, Shin Beth, had anticipated that "something like this would happen sooner or later".

"The Shin Beth had warned Israeli tourists not to go to Egypt at this time, but they didn't heed the warnings."

Oron dismissed the theory that the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and parts of the West Bank made incidents such as the Taba bombing inevitable.

"This is how the terrorists think, but not us. Egypt is a moderate country which has suffered as a result of terror, and we hope that Israel and Egypt will cooperate more closely against the terrorist groups."