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By Faris Ali
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a court building in Peshawar on Thursday, killing 18 people, officials said, in the latest of a series of attacks on the northwestern Pakistan city.
The city, near the Afghan border, has been targeted several times since the army began an offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan last month and militants stepped up retaliatory attacks.
"The attacker was on foot and blew himself up when guards tried to search him at the gates of the court," senior city administrator Sahibzada Anis told reporters.
The army went on the offensive in South Waziristan on the Afghan border on October 17, aiming to root out militants who escalated their war against the security forces in 2007.
The militants have responded with intensified attacks in towns and cities. There have been seven suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan this month, five of them in Peshawar, and about 110 people have been killed.
The United States, weighing options for how to stem an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan, has welcomed the offensive but is keen to see Pakistan tackle Afghan Taliban factions based in lawless enclaves along the border.
Eighteen people were killed and 34 wounded in the attack at the court complex, said hospital official and doctor Sahib Gul.
Three policemen were among the dead, said Anis.
The court is across a road from the city's top hotel, which was attacked by a suicide car-bomber in June. A security agency building on the same road was attacked last week.
The violence has rattled investors in Pakistani stocks who took profits soon after news of the attack broke, dealers said.
But the main index later rose on hopes for an interest rate cut when monetary policy for coming months is set on November 24, and closed up 1.2 percent.
"WE HAVE THE RESOLVE"
Despite the barrage of bombs, the government says it is determined to defeat the militants with the help of its allies.
"The whole nation is united against terrorism," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters.
"We have ability, we have the will and we have the resolve to fight terrorism but we lack the capacity. We've asked the international community to help in enhancing our capacity."
Earlier, security officials said a U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles into a northwestern militant stronghold killing four people.
The late night attack was in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, about 20 km (12 miles) west of the town of Miranshah, the officials said.
The identity of the four people killed and six wounded was not known, said the officials, who declined to be identified.
The United States has carried out 44 attacks with its pilotless, missile-firing aircraft in northwest Pakistan this year as it forces in neighbouring Afghanistan have faced an intensifying Taliban insurgency.
There were 32 such strikes last year, according to a Reuters tally of reports from Pakistani security agents, government officials and residents.
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Kamran Haider; Writ ing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson)