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Hamas, Abbas split in reaction to Tel Aviv attack

Suicide blast kills 9, wounds dozens at restaurant
Victims lie on the pavement following Monday's attack in Tel Aviv.


Tel Aviv (Israel)

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- A suicide bombing that killed nine people at an Israeli restaurant Monday provoked conflicting responses from Palestinian leaders, underscoring the recent power shift within the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- whose Fatah Party was ousted in January parliamentary elections -- condemned the Tel Aviv terrorist attack. But Hamas -- the group that came to power -- called the bombing justified.

Israeli Apache helicopters fired missiles into Gaza late Monday but the Israel Defense Forces denied it was retaliation.

The blast marked the first time a suicide bomber has successfully set off a bomb in Israel since the Hamas-led government assumed power over the Palestinian Authority on March 30. (Watch emergency responders work to save victims after the attack -- 1:35)

The bombing occurred during a busy period of Passover and about two hours before Israel's parliament, the Knesset, convened for its new term.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said before the session that "the forces of democracy" would respond to this "day of terror."

Two Americans were wounded in the attack, one of them critically, according to the U.S. State Department, which condemned the bombing.

The militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast, which also killed the bomber.

Hamas, like Islamic Jihad, calls for Israel's destruction. After its election victory, the Hamas-led government refused to meet demands by Western nations to renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state's right to exist -- although it has maintained a cease-fire.

The United States, European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Hamas claims 'self-defense'

An Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza, Khaled Al-Batsh, said that regardless of who was behind the attack, Palestinians had the right to resist an Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Palestinian people "are in a state of self-defense."

"We assure our Palestinian people of the right to defend themselves, and this operation is surely a natural reaction to the continued Zionist crimes carried out against our Palestinian people," said Zuhri.

Abbas denounced the bombing, Palestinian legislator Saeb Erakat said.

"We have always condemned attacks targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israelis," Erakat said. "Such attacks harm Palestinian interests. We call upon all Palestinians to abide by the cessation of violence."

Of the 49 people taken to hospitals after Monday's attack, one died later of wounds. Another eight people were critically wounded and 12 others were in moderate condition, ambulance officials said.

An Israeli police commander said that immediately before the attack the bomber scuffled with a security guard outside the restaurant, a falafel stand at Tel Aviv's old central bus station.

The commander said the bomber tried to push himself inside the restaurant and then blew himself up.

With security personnel swarming around the site after the bombing, the wounded were treated on sidewalks and wheeled away on stretchers. The explosion damaged building fronts, scattered debris around the area and blew the windows out of a nearby car.

Challenge for new Israeli leader

The bombing was among the first major security challenges for Israeli Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert since he won March 28 elections, taking over from the ailing Ariel Sharon.

Olmert met with his Kadima faction at the Israeli Knesset and said that Israel would respond appropriately to the attack.

"We will know how to respond in the way and manner required, and we will continue to act with all means at our disposal to thwart further such incidents," Olmert said.

He has said he would continue Sharon's policy of unilateral withdrawals from Palestinian territories.

Olmert has vowed to define Israel's permanent borders within four years -- with or without talks with the Palestinians -- by evacuating many of the smaller Jewish settlements in the West Bank and annexing the larger ones.

In what was reported to be the year's first suicide bombing in Israel, a bomber attacked the same falafel restaurant on January 19. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed Monday's attack occurred at that eatery. (Full story)

Rosenfeld said Israel has thwarted numerous other attempted attacks this year.

The old bus station is a mall area usually packed with workers.

Israeli police have said it is difficult to patrol, making it a favorite target of suicide bombers.

Israel strikes Gaza workshop

Two Israeli Apache helicopters fired missiles into Gaza late Monday, destroying a building that Israelis said was being used as a workshop for missile construction but causing no casualties, said a journalist who witnessed the attack.

Israel Defense Forces said the attack was not in retaliation for Monday's suicide bombing.

The attack, which occurred around midnight (5 p.m. ET), was against a building thought to be used by the Popular Resistance Committees to make Qassam rockets.

Palestinian security sources described the building simply as a workshop.

White House: 'No excuse'

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Monday's suicide bombing was "a despicable act of terror for which there is no excuse or justification."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on Hamas to govern responsibly and end its support for terrorism.

"The burden of responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks rests with the Palestinian Authority," McCormack said in a statement.

McCormack said defense of such actions by Hamas "will undoubtedly affect relations between the Palestinian Authority and all states seeking peace in the Middle East."

McCormack reiterated that the United States will not have contact with the Hamas-led government and called on the international community to demand Hamas abandon its support for terrorism.

"We are now seeing the true nature of this Hamas-led government," he said.

The United States has cut off all aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. But over the weekend Iran pledged $50 million in aid to Hamas, and other states have also offered to make up the shortfall.

McCormack said the United States would continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

Contributing to this report were CNN's Yoav Appel, Avivit Dalgoshen and John Vause -- and journalist Talal Abu-Rahmi.

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