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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suicide Bomber Hits Israeli Restaurant

TEL AVIV, Israel -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at a fast food restaurant in a bustling commercial area of Tel Aviv during the Jewish holiday of Passover on Monday, killing nine civilians and wounding dozens of others, including several seriously, police and medics said.

A security guard posted outside the restaurant, which had been the target of a previous suicide bombing in January, prevented the bomber from entering the building, police said.

It was the first suicide bombing in Israel since the militant group Hamas took over the Palestinian government 2 1/2 weeks ago -- and came shortly ahead of a swearing in ceremony in Jerusalem for the new Israeli parliament.

The Islamic Jihad group, in a phone call to The Associated Press, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

In a sharp departure from the previous Palestinian leadership's immediate condemnations of such attacks, Hamas leaders called the bombing a legitimate response to Israeli "aggression."

"We think that this operation ... is a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people," said Khaled Abu Helal, spokesman for the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.

Earlier, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas leader abroad, told Al-Jazeera television that "the Israeli side must feel what the Palestinian feels, and the Palestinian defends himself as much as he can."

"The Palestinian must have a natural response to these [Israeli] crimes with his available means," he said, warning that "the next phase can see more escalation than now because of the Israeli position."

Despite the Hamas declarations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah Party, condemned the bombing, calling it a "terrorist attack."

Abbas is currently involved in a heated power struggle with Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections on Jan. 25.

Hamas has been observing a cease-fire with Israel for more than a year, though the new Hamas-led Palestinian leadership has refused to condemn attacks against Israelis.

Islamic Jihad, which has close links to Israel's archenemy Iran, has claimed responsibility for all six of the previous suicide attacks inside Israel since the cease-fire was declared.

The bomber struck the same restaurant, "The Mayor's Felafel," that was hit by an attacker on Jan. 19. In that attack, 20 people were wounded. The restaurant is in the bustling Neve Shaanan neighborhood near Tel Aviv's central bus station, which was crowded with holiday travelers.

Police said the restaurant had hired a security guard after the January bombing.

The guard was apparently injured in Monday's blast. A witness, Moussa al Zidat, said the guard at the felafel restaurant asked the apparent bomber to open his bag.

Another witness, 62-year-old Sonya Levy, said she had just finished shopping when the blast went off.

"I was about to get into my car, and boom, there was an explosion. A bit of human flesh landed on my car and I started to scream," she said. Her car was 50 meters from the explosion, and its windshield was smeared with blood

Police said 10 people, including the suicide bomber, were killed. Medics said nine of the injured were in serious condition, 12 were hurt moderately and the rest suffered minor wounds.