A Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bakery in the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat on Monday, killing himself and three people, police said. It was the first suicide attack in Israel in nine months and the first ever to hit Eilat, Israel's southernmost city.
Two Palestinian militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, claimed joint responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, which has carried out dozens of suicide attacks, told The Associated Press that the attacker came from the West Bank, but gave no other details.
The bomber struck a small bakery in a residential neighborhood. Shattered glass was visible on the sidewalk outside, alongside bread trays scattered by the blast.
Benny Mazgini, 45, said he was in an apartment across the street when the building shook from the force of the blast.
When he ran outside, Mazgini said, he saw body parts scattered on the sidewalk outside the bakery.
"It was awful there was smoke, pieces of flesh all over the place," Mazgini said.
Police cordoned off the area, and Bruno Stein, Eilat's police commander, said the police believed there could be more bombers in the city.
"Our assumption is that it's not one bomber, and there might be more bombers in Eilat right now," Stein said. Israeli emergency services raised their alert level to the highest.
Police initially suspected the blast was either an accident or criminal incident.
The attack was the first suicide bombing to hit Eilat, which is distant from Israel's major population centers and has been largely insulated from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also was the first suicide bombing in Israel since last April, when a bomber struck a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing 12 people.
Suicide bombings in Israel are sharply down from their height four years ago, when hundreds of Israelis were killed in dozens of attacks. However, a renewal of such violence could derail current efforts by the U.S., Israel and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew long-stalled peace talks.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, one of the groups claiming responsibility for Monday's attack, is linked to Abbas's Fatah Party. However, Fatah spokesman Ahmad Abdul Rahman condemned the violence, saying, "We are against any operation that targets civilians, Israelis or Palestinians."
There was no immediate reaction from Hamas, the radical group that now controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet. Hamas came under intense criticism last April for failing to condemn the Tel Aviv attack.
Eilat is located on the Red Sea near the Jordanian and Egyptian border, and al-Qaida operatives have been active in both neighboring countries. However, there was no indication the group was involved in Monday's attack, reports AP.
The Israel-Egypt border, which runs near Eilat, is regularly crossed by smugglers entering Israel, according to police. Though the smugglers for the most part bring drugs and prostitutes into Israel, local officials in Eilat raised the possibility that the bomber had used the smuggling route to cross from Egypt.
In August 2005, a group thought to be linked to al-Qaida fired a rocket from Jordan at Eilat, causing no casualties. Al-Qaida also has carried out deadly attacks on hotels in Jordan and in Taba, just across the Egyptian border from Eilat.
Some Palestinian tourism agencies run tours to Eilat, providing another possible route for attackers to reach the city, a four-hour drive from the central cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.