‘It’s a real nightmare’

A suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem on Thursday, killing at least 10 bystanders and wounding about 30 in an attack outside Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s official residence, police and paramedics said.

Sharon was not in the area.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The explosion coincided with a German-brokered prisoner swap between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. It was not clear whether there was a connection.

The explosion went off just before 9am in the Rehavia district in downtown Jerusalem, 15m from Sharon’s official residence. Sharon was at his farm in southern Israel at the time, his aides said.

Eli Beer, a paramedic, said victims had been scattered over a wide area.

”There were a lot of heavy injuries, a lot of the people who were injured were in bad condition, a lot of people had missing limbs,” he said.

Bret Stephens, editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post, was near the scene at the time of the blast. ”There was glass everywhere, human remains everywhere, shoes, feet, pieces of guts. There were pieces of body everywhere,” he said.

Stephane Ben Shushan, who owns a chocolate store in the upscale neighbourhood, said the bus was moving slowly in heavy traffic when the explosion went off. ”It’s a real nightmare, you can smell the blood,” he said.

The bomber was in the back of the bus when he detonated the explosives, said Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy.

”It was a very serious attack on a bus packed with passengers,” Levy said at the scene. ”According to what we know at the moment … we’re talking about a suicide bomber.”

The green Egged bus was charred, with wires dangling everywhere. One side of the bus had been blown out and the back half of the roof was blown off.

Police investigators with sniffer dogs searched the bus. Paramedics were taking away the wounded on stretchers. Others were treated at the scene. People, dazed and crying, wandered around the area.

The explosion came two days after senior Egyptian officials made another attempt to win a pledge from Palestinian militants to halt attacks on Israelis.

The attack was a further setback to international efforts to bring about a resumption of peace talks. Two visiting senior United State’s State Department officials, David Satterfield and John Wolf, were meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz at the time of the blast. The US-led ”road map” peace plan has been stalled almost since its inception in June.

Palestinian Authority officials condemned the bombing. ”This vicious cycle can only be broken by renewal of a meaningful peace process,” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. ”Otherwise, violence will breed violence, bullets will breed bullets.”

Sharon’s spokesperson, Raanan Gissin, said the attack illustrated why Israel is building a contentious separation barrier in the West Bank.

Thursday’s bombing was the deadliest since a female suicide bomber killed 21 people at a seaside restaurant in Haifa on October 4. — Sapa-AP

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