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Gaza bomb attack: strategy shift?

The first attack against US officials in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict raises the question of a new militant tack.

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One after another, Palestinian officials Wednesday sought to distance their cause from a deadly attack against a US diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip, urging the US not to react precipitously.

The blast - which killed three Americans and injured another - was the most significant direct attack on a US target since Israelis and Palestinians resumed outright warfare against each other three years ago.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat denounced the attack as "an ugly crime." The PA's caretaker prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, said that "we strongly condemn this incident and we will ... find the source of this attack." Two militant groups denied involvement in the bombing.

The bomb was apparently a remote-controlled device planted along a main road that leads away from the major crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The convoy was ferrying US officials who planned to interview Palestinian candidates applying for Fulbright scholarships.

At about the same time as Palestinian officials were calling for a thorough investigation, two major Palestinian militant groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - denied responsibility. Hamas, in particular, has claimed responsibility for roadside bombs that have destroyed Israeli tanks. Wednesday's bomb may not have been that powerful, but it dug a car-sized crater in the sandy Gazan soil and mangled the armored vehicle that took the brunt of the explosion.

Denials aside, the anti-American anger of Palestinians is hard to miss. Palestinian youths from a nearby refugee camp threw stones at US investigators as they arrived at the blast scene Wednesday. And one analyst was willing to say that the attack may reflect Palestinian frustration with the Bush administration's strong support for Israel and its on-again-off-again approach toward Middle East peacemaking.

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