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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF officer Uri Binamo and two Palestinians were killed in a suicide bombing Thursday at a checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Tulkarm.
Three soldiers and seven Palestinians were also wounded in the blast.
The attack occurred near the settlement of Avnei Hefetz when an army jeep at the temporary checkpoint stopped a Palestinian taxi driving from Tulkarm.
Troops from the Nahshon Battalion were acting on an intelligence tip about terrorists planning to attack within the Green Line during Hanukka, an IDF spokeswoman said.
Lt. Binamo, 21, from the northern town of Nesher, took the lead in approaching the taxi and told the occupants to get out of the vehicle.
The three Palestinian men inside complied with the order, but once out of the taxi, one of them lifted his shirt to reveal a 10-kilogram suicide belt. He then detonated the belt, killing himself, the two Palestinians and Binamo.
TV's Channel 2 reported that Lt. Einat Bing, the slain officer's girlfriend, who was stationed in the area, heard the report of the attack over the field radio. She immediately tried to call Binamo on his mobile phone but could not reach him.
"He didn't answer, and I understood [what had happened]," she said.
Binamo will be laid to rest at 11 a.m. Friday at the military cemetery in Haifa.
The three soldiers covering the officer as he made his approach were wounded.
The most seriously injured soldier was taken to Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera, where he underwent vascular surgery. His condition was listed as serious but stable following the operation, the hospital spokeswoman said.
The other two soldiers were lightly wounded by shrapnel and transferred to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, where one may have to undergo surgery on his hand.
One of the Palestinians killed in the bombing was an innocent bystander. The other was the suicide bomber's guide, OC Efraim Territorial Brigade Col. Aharon Haliba told the Post. "So I would say that two terrorists were killed, since the man who was bringing him to Israel is just as much a terrorist as the suicide bomber," Haliba said.
Dr. Hussam al-Taneeb, the director of the Dr. Thabet Thabet Hospital in Tulkarm, said that seven Palestinian civilians, including a four-year-old child, were also wounded.
Security sources told The Jerusalem Post that there have been 50 general terror warnings and more than 10 specific alerts in the past two weeks.
Though the IDF put a closure on Tulkarm and Kalkilya following the attack, MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) took the opportunity to condemn the Sharon government.
"The government's weakness is interpreted by the Palestinians as an invitation to launch terror attacks on Israel," Orlev said.
But military sources believe that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the bombing, and the group is hardly a new phenomenon in the northern West Bank.
"We've been talking about Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm being strongholds of the Islamic Jihad for the past two years," said Brig.-Gen. Shalom Hariri, a former adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Defense Ministry.
Judy Siegel contributed to this report.