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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinians Bomb Israeli Resort Town

EILAT, Israel -- Palestinian militant groups carried out their first suicide bombing in Israel in nine months, killing three people in the resort of Eilat on Monday.

The Eilat blast came four days before the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers was to meet in Washington as part of a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks. Efforts have only been complicated by fierce Palestinian factional fighting.

Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades claimed responsibility for what was the first suicide attack in the Red Sea tourist town, and named a 21-year-old from Gaza as the bomber.

In Gaza, rival Palestinian factions battled in the streets for a fifth straight day, killing at least two fighters on Monday. Saudi Arabia has offered to host talks between the feuding Hamas movement and Fatah in the holy city Mecca.

The fighting has been the fiercest since Hamas, an Islamist group, won elections one year ago. Gun battles have spread across the densely populated Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians live, and prompted some families to flee their homes.

The latest deaths raised to 29 the number of people killed in clashes since Thursday. The fighting, which has erupted periodically over the past year, has derailed unity talks between Hamas and Fatah.

"What else can we call this but a civil war?" asked Abu Omar, a shop owner in Gaza City, where most businesses closed down.

Eilat residents were jolted by what witnesses described as a powerful explosion in the Lechamim bakery in a residential neighborhood of the city, far from its beach hotels. "I saw a man with a black coat and a bag. For Eilat, where it is hot, it is strange to see someone walking with a coat. I said to myself, 'Why is this idiot dressed that way?' Seconds later, I heard a huge blast. The building shook," Benny Mazgini, a local resident, told Israel Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in broadcast remarks that all three of those killed by the bomber were Israelis. He said Israel was weighing its response.

Islamic Jihad and the Aqsa brigades said the bombing was a response to Israeli "attempts to defile al-Aqsa mosque" in Jerusalem, a reference to recent archaeological excavations. Israeli officials said the work had not damaged the shrine.

"The heroic operation announces the beginning of a series of operations in defense of al-Aqsa mosque and it was a natural response to savage aggression by the occupation [Israel]," the two groups said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused unidentified outsiders as instigating Palestinian factional strife that he said was threatening civil war and hindering a relaunch of peace talks with Israel.

At a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov said efforts to resume negotiations had broken down over the threat of civil war in the Palestinian territories, Interfax reported.

Lavrov is expected to travel to Washington on Feb. 2 to take part in a meeting of the so-called Quartet -- Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union -- mediating a solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lavrov did not say who he thought was hindering a reconciliation.