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Pakistan’s president blamed Islamic militants for Thursday’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto, 54, who was shot by a gunman before a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a political rally near Islamabad, returned to Pakistan several weeks ago amid political crisis in the country. She survived an earlier assassination attempt when a bomber struck during the parade that greeted her return to Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf set off a constitutional crisis in Pakistan several weeks ago when he moved to suspend the country’s constitution and scuttle planned parliamentary elections. After enduring heavy criticism at home and abroad, including from the Bush administration, Musharraf withdrew some of his plans and resigned his post as commander in chief of the army.

The turmoil in Pakistan has been of great concern to Israel, given Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Following Bhutto’s assassination Thursday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Bhutto a “courageous woman.”

“Israel expresses the hope that Pakistan will continue along the path of reconciliation, moderation and democracy,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, offering condolences to Pakistan, which does not have formal relations with Israel.

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