Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for Thursday's suicide bombing, is determined to thwart the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Palestinian Authority officials here said. Islamic Jihad is the only group boycotting the vote.
"They want to embarrass the Palestinian Authority and Chairman [Mahmoud] Abbas," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "We hope that Israel won't resort to any military operation that could disrupt the elections."
PA security officials told the Post that Abbas had ordered his security forces to step up their efforts to prevent Islamic Jihad or any other radical group from carrying out attacks ahead of the elections.
"We've already arrested several Islamic Jihad members responsible for previous suicide attacks, and they are being held in a Jericho prison," said one official. "We believe that the orders to carry out Thursday's suicide attack came directly from Islamic Jihad leaders abroad."
Abbas condemned the bombing, telling reporters, "This is an act of sabotage by all standards. The perpetrators are trying to sabotage not only the parliamentary elections, but also the security of the Palestinian people."
He described those behind the attacks as "defectors" who were operating outside the framework of Palestinian consensus.
Interior Minister Nasser Youssef, who is in charge of the security forces, also condemned the attack. "We reject this attack because it harms the interests of our people," he said.
The bomber was identified as Sami Abdel Hafez Antar, 20, a student at An-Najah University in Nablus. His friends described him as an active member of Islamic Jihad.
They said Antar, who was studying physical education, used to work as a porter in the Old City of Nablus after his studies to help support his nine brothers and sisters. One student said he last saw Antar on Thursday at noon, when the two had lunch together in one of the city's restaurants. "He behaved in a normal way and didn't say anything about his plans," he said.
In Gaza City, Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said the attack was a "natural response to Israeli assassinations of our fighters and aggression against the Palestinian people."
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