Suicide bomber injures 40 in bus station attack

The smaller Islamic Jihad militia had also threatened retribution after Israeli troops killed five Palestinians 10 days ago in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. The force was hunting for Islamic Jihad gunmen said to have been behind suicide bombings earlier this year in Tel Aviv and Netanya. An army investigation confirmed at least one of the dead was an innocent teenage boy.

Khaled Tantash, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, praised the Beersheba bomber. "We send a salute of respect and appreciation to those who carried out this heroic attack against the Zionist enemy," he told Al Manar, the television station of Lebanese Hizbollah. "This proves that the arm of the resistance is long and capable of reaching any place in the Zionist entity."

Undaunted by the bombing, Ariel Sharon's Cabinet voted overwhelmingly yesterday to allow Egypt to deploy 750 police to prevent weapons smuggling to terror groups in the Gaza Strip. This reversed a clause in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which demilitarised most of the Sinai peninsula.

Shaul Mofaz, the Defence Minister, predicted that Israel would evacuate the " Philadelphi" route, a corridor 14km (8.7 miles) long, by the end of the year. The Israelis retained the right to patrol the border strip under the peace treaty, but have waged a frustrating battle to stop smugglers digging tunnels under their noses. The Egyptians are said to be ready to take up their positions within two weeks.

Israel maintains that, by opening the border, it would cease being an occupying power in Gaza under international law. Palestinian officials are refusing to let it off the hook until it abandons control of all movement in and out of the area.

Under a new deal with Cairo, which the Israeli right says is a dangerous precedent, the 750 border police will be armed with side arms, grenades and light machine guns. They will be backed by coastguard patrol boats and unarmed helicopters. Israel and Egypt will share intelligence, The Independent reported.

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