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04 Mar 2003 10:18
A suicide bomber blew himself up on a crowded bus in the northern Israeli city of Haifa today, killing at least 14 people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The explosion, the first terrorist attack in Israel since January, ripped the roof off a No. 37 bus, strewing wreckage and body parts across the street.
Witnesses said the explosion occurred just after the bus stopped on a main street in the hilltop district of Carmelia at about 2.17pm local time (12.17 GMT).
Officials said that at that time, the bus would have been packed with students from the nearby University of Haifa.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which comes as Israel’s new hardline government continues its new clampdown on Hamas militants in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority considers far-reaching political reforms.
“Once again, the bestial hand of Palestinian terrorism has struck at the heart of Israel,” said Mark Sofer, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned “any attack that is targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli”. He added: “We reject the Israel government finger-pointing that the Palestinian Authority is responsible.”
Haifa police chief Yaacov Borovsky said the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber.
Avi Zohar, a rescues services spokesman, said there were “dozens of casualties, among them at least two dozen seriously injured”.
Ovadia Saar, who was driving another bus just behind the one that was attacked, said he saw “the back of the bus fly into the air, and the windows blew out and a great cloud of dust covered the bus”.
“I got out and ran toward the bus. It was a horrible sight. There were a few bodies in the street,” he said. “Those we saw breathing we evacuated.”
The blast toppled some palm trees and left the bus a skeleton of charred and twisted metal. Cars that were parked nearby were also damaged, and some passers-by were among the injured.
Israeli police went on alert throughout the country amid warnings that more attacks were planned, reports said.
The blast is the first terror attack in Israel since January 5, when two suicide bombers killed 23 people in Tel Aviv.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a spokesman for the Islamic militant group Hamas, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility. “We will not stop our resistance,” he said. “We are not going to give up in the face of the daily killing [of Palestinians]”.
The attack comes days after the establishment of a new rightwing government in Israel. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is currently considering appointing a Palestinian prime minister - a move demanded by the US and Israel as a means of sidelining the ageing leader. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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