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Middle East: Blasts Target Egyptian Resorts Popular With Israeli Tourists

8 October 2004 -- At least 12 people have died in a series of blasts at tourist resorts in Egypt. The largest explosion hit the Taba Hilton, a hotel near the border with Israel. It was followed about an hour later by two smaller explosions at nearby campsites.

Israeli ambulances carried some of the wounded to hospital, as hundreds of dazed tourists streamed over the border back into Israel.

Hours earlier, they had been among thousands enjoying vacations on Egypt's popular Sinai peninsula -- until their holidays turned into a nightmare:

"We were staying at the Taba Hilton, family holiday, and approximately about 9:30 p.m., I was closing my doors and suddenly I felt this incredible shudder, and incredible sort of dust and everything. The ceiling didn't come down, but the whole room was disarranged and everybody was screaming," one woman said.

First, a suspected truck bomb slammed into the lobby of the Taba Hilton, just meters from Egypt's border with Israel. Moments later, officials say, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the hotel's swimming pool.

The blasts ripped off one side of the 10-story building. Reports say some guests who were in their rooms fell to their deaths.

As efforts got under way to rescue guests trapped under the rubble, news came of two more explosions -- this time at beaches popular with backpackers southwest of Taba.

"There was a terrorist attack on the beach where we were staying in Ras al-Sultan. Two explosions. Very strong. One of our friends died. Many were injured. It took a lot of time until the rescuers came. They were arguing all the time. They wanted to take the injured to Nuweiba. It was catastrophe," Israeli man said.

Hours after the blasts, there are still no firm figures on the number of casualties.

The lowest estimate puts the number of dead at 12. But with nearly 40 others missing, that toll looks set to rise. Israeli Radio puts the number of dead at 27.

The attacks come one month after Israel warned travelers against visiting Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea, saying they might be targeted by militants.

Two previously unknown Islamic militant groups have claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks.

But Israel says they bear the hallmarks of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network -- not Palestinian militants.

"The structure of this terror attack, it seems to me that it is a terror group like Al-Qaeda, and it is not the kind of terror attack that we know comes from Palestinian terror organizations," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said.

It's not the first time Israelis abroad have been targeted by bombers. In November 2002, 15 people were killed at a hotel in Kenya popular with Israeli tourists.

As many as 10,000 Israelis were thought to be in Sinai for the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Israel's Foreign Ministry says it will help evacuate any of them who want to leave.