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Russia's Putin to Take Part in Auschwitz Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is to take part in ceremonies marking January's 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz by the Soviet army, Poland's president said on Thursday. Between 1940 and 1945 over one million men, women and children -- most of them Jews -- perished in horrific circumstances at Auschwitz, one of the most infamous of World War II concentration camps. The camp, liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, by the Red Army, has since become a symbol of the Holocaust.

Blast at Hilton Hotel in Taba, close to Egypt-Israel Border

By Ha'aretz, AFP, Al, &

An explosion occurred at the Hilton Hotel in the Egyptian town of Taba in the Sinai Desert on Thursday evening, on the border with Israel. News agencies reported at least 30 dead and more than 114 injured. The death toll was expected to rise. The blast, which took place in the lobby of the hotel at around 9:50 p.m., caused the ceiling of the lobby to collapse. A fire then broke out at the hotel, and hotel guests on the upper floors were evacuated via the emergency exits.

Israeli media and other news reports said part of 10 floors of the hotel had collapsed, while another part of the building was in flames, Two other blasts were reported in two other resort towns shortly after the Taba explosion in the resort towns of Nueiba and Ras al-Sultan dozens of miles to the southwest, near a camping area full of Israeli tourists. Before Sinai was returned to Egypt, the Hilton was known as tbe Israeli Sonesta Hotel.

Several hours after the blast, Egyptian television said that Egyptian police have made initial arrests of people suspected of involvement in the bombings, Channel 2 reported. Seven people were killed in the attack at Ras al-Sultan, all Egyptian workers, Channel 2 television quoted Egyptian police as saying. Egyptian TV said that 43 people had been wounded in Nueiba, only three of whom are Egyptian

Early reports said the Taba explosion was likely caused by a gas leak, but a radio reporter at a hospital in Eilat reported that one woman wounded in the blast had said two suicide bombers caused it. Hamas took responsibility on their web site. The Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera said that most of those wounded in the blast were Israelis. There are unconfirmed reports of dozens of injured. Unconfirmed reports indicated Israeli rescue personnel are not being permitted access to the wounded, stating hotel personnel are providing "minimal" medical care.

An Israeli witness at the Hilton said that the hotel was on fire, and that dozens of bodies were lying on the floor. "I heard a huge explosion. The wall near me collapsed and people began to run. There were many casualties... The explosion was outside. When we went out we saw the shops and the internal wall of the hotel had collapsed," the witness, Yigal Vakni, told Army Radio. "The whole front of the hotel has collapsed. There are dozens of people on the floor, lots of blood, it is very tense.

"Some people it was a gas canister explosion and others said it was a terrorist attack. There are a lot of people [lying on the ground]. There is a lot of blood, a lot of screaming," he added. "The whole front of the hotel has collapsed," he said. "I am standing outside of the hotel, the whole thing is burning and they have nothing to put it out with. There is nothing here." Within 45 minutes of the blast, seven of the wounded had been taken to Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat, Channel 10 television said. Five of the wounded were in light condition and two had sustained moderate injuries.

In the wake of the explosion, Israel amassed a large number of rescue personnel on the Egyptian border, and Israel Air Force planes were scrambled. Egypt later closed the border with Israel, preventing Israeli rescue personnel from crossing. Israeli medics said they had been informed of "a large number of casualties" and had ambulances standing by at the border.

An unconscious child and a young woman, her arm wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage, were among those carried on stretchers into waiting ambulances for the short ride to Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat. Other wounded were ferried by helicopter to the larger Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. "There was a huge explosion and debris showered down on us," said one woman at the border crossing.

Later, Eilat police officials reported that MDA ambulances and other rescue workers received the green light to cross the border and crews arrived at the hotel. The blast could be heard strongly about 1.25 miles from the hotel, said Selma Abu el-Dahab, who works at another Taba hotel. She said a worker from her hotel returned from the Hilton and told of the explosion before collapsing.

Many Israelis have visited Egypt over the past month, during the period of Jewish holidays. Last month, the defense establishment cautioned Israelis against traveling to Sinai, following warnings of a potential terrorist attack.

Israelis present at the hotel telephoned Israel Radio with eyewitness reports. All of the reports concur, that Egyptian emergency responders were not operating on the scene. They added that due to the electrical outage, the area is "black" and visibility is" next to zero".

Aljazeera's correspondent in Ramallah says there are some 45,000 Israeli tourists celebrating their Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah holidays. Witnesses said there were also many Russians at the hotel. Celebrations reportedly took place in Gaza and in Cairo.

On Sept. 9, the Israeli government urged citizens not to visit Egypt, citing a "concrete" terror threat to tourists. The warning, issued by the counter-terrorism center in the prime minister's office, identified Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where Taba is located, as the target of a potential attack.

"Recently a concrete possibility has emerged that terrorists will try to attack tourist centers in Egypt, especially the Sinai," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its Web site.

Taba is the main crossing between Israel and Egypt and the gateway for thousands of Israelis who travel to the hotels and resorts on the Red Sea. Thursday was the last day of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, when thousands of Israelis vacation in the Sinai.

In the wake of the explosions, the anti-terror unit in the Prime Minister's Office called on all Israelis to leave Sinai immediately, and return to Israel, Army Radio reported. The Foreign Ministry said it is ready to return the 12,000 to 15,000 Israelis still in the Sinai Peninsula. "There is a plan to send buses to help them evacuate, those who want to," said ministry spokesman Rachel Shani.

Hundreds of Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings during four years of conflict with the Palestinians. Egyptian resorts had remained popular with Israelis despite popular animosity in Egypt to the Jewish state. Egypt is one of the few Arab states to sign a peace deal with Israel.

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