Amid the chaos on Thursday night, the toll was unclear. Officials initially reported at least 30 dead, but by Friday morning they said rescuers had located 19 bodies in the rubble - although more were expected to be found.

 

Egypt said at least 12 Egyptians were dead, and senior Israeli army officer Yair Naveh said 38 Israelis were missing. 

 

The explosion was followed by two smaller blasts at other tourist sites in the Sinai that killed at least two Israelis, apparently caused by bombs in pickup trucks.

 

Egyptian hospital officials said four people were killed in those explosions.

 

Investigation

 

Two bombs exploded in quick succession at the Hilton Taba. A car laden with explosives drove into the lobby of the hotel and detonated, while a human bomber blew up near the hotel swimming pool, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity. 

 

A part of the hotel is said to have
collapsed from the blast

Egyptian officials were investigating the blasts, but could not confirm witness reports that car bombs were the cause.

 

The Taba blast collapsed a 10-storey wing of the luxury Hilton hotel built by Israel when it controlled Taba from 1967 to 1989. Israelis described a chaotic scene as the explosion brought the top floors of the hotel crashing into the lobby.

 

Meir Frajun said his three children were playing one floor below the lobby when the blast tore through the building. He went down but found only two of them. 

 

"Everything was filled with smoke," Frajun said after crossing into the nearby Israeli resort of Eilat. "We were hysterically looking for the child. In the end we found him sitting outside with an Arab guest of the hotel."

 

Israel blamed al-Qaida for the explosion. "According to our first information, it appears to be the an international terror attack with the hallmarks of al-Qaida, Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim said.

Claim

No established groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings, but two previously unknown groups each said they carried it out. 

"I think the explosions are very related to what is going on in Gaza"

Magdy Rady,
Egyptian government spokesman

Tawhid Islamic Brigades published a claim on a website that has been used frequently for such claims from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And Jamaa al-Islamiya al-Alamiya, or World Islamist Group, called an international news agency in Jerusalem to make its claim.

Neither group offered details of how it carried out the attack, as such claims usually do, and there was no way to confirm their authenticity. 

Gaza link

Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady suggested the blasts were related to the Israeli military operation against the Palestinians in the neighbouring Gaza Strip, where 84 Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli offensive.

Two previously unknown groups 
said they carried out the attack

Tel Aviv began the military raids on 29 September to stop, it said, resistance fighters from firing homemade rockets into Israel. 

"I think the explosions are very related to what is going on in Gaza," Rady said. "We condemn these attacks, which have harmed many people. 

"I think it is very probable that there is a link between these three explosions," he added. "It is very unlikely they happened by chance."  

Hamas denial

But the Palestinian resistance group Hamas denied any involvement in the blasts.

"Hamas's resistance strategy is very clear. It is in Palestine only," Fawzi Barhum, Hamas spokesman told Aljazeera. 

"Hamas's resistance strategy is very clear, it is in Palestine only"

Fawzi Barhum,
Hamas spokesman

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

The spokesman went on to say that Israel may try to lure Hamas outside Palestine, but "we  respect the Arab states and their leaderships, especially the neighbouring countries," he said speaking from Gaza. 

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

Israeli security forces had warned Israeli travellers against visiting Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea, saying they might be targeted by "militants". There are some 45,000 Israeli tourists celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in Egypt.