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A woman's rage fuels a new kind of Mideast violence

A female suicide bomber killed an Israeli man and injured more than 100 people this week.

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A new and deadly militancy is erupting inside Yasser Arafat's political base, the Fatah movement. Fatah this week spawned what is believed to be the first woman suicide bomber, Wafa Idris, who blew herself up in Jerusalem Sunday, killing an elderly Israeli man and wounding more than 100 people. The trend, expressed in attacks against civilians inside Israel, portends an even more intractable Middle East conflict.

Friends of Ms. Idris said Wednesday that she had been active for many years in Fatah and served on a women's committee. Fatah is the largest Palestinian political group and until Sept. 2000 it was Israel's uneasy partner in the now defunct peace process.

"The pressure of our situation, being under siege, facing assassinations, the demolition of houses, all built up and exploded for her," Jihad Tumali, a Fatah leader in the camp, said. "She sacrificed her life for her people," he added. But then he distanced himself from the bombing. "We in Fatah are adhering to a strategic choice for peace, but the state terrorism of Sharon is driving people to revenge."

Idris's friends believe she carried out the bombing because of her experiences as a paramedic, during which she frequently treated people wounded by Israeli troops, including children. They said that on one occasion she was beaten by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian analysts warn that unless the political climate changes drastically, Ms. Idris may be the first of a long line of Fatah suicide bombers. "Fatah is definitely entering a new period," says Bir Zeit University political scientist Ali Jarbawi. "It is a movement with many different groupings, and one of these groupings favors escalation of the resistance."

Suicide bombings were formerly the exclusive domain of the Islamic fundamentalist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which call for the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic state. Fatah had concentrated its attacks against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, usually in the form of drive-by shootings. Until this month, it had not mounted a suicide-style attack since the 1970s, according to Jarbawi.

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