Jerusalem Bomb Kills One, Wounds Dozens

Israeli police are blaming Palestinian militants for a bomb attack that killed at least one person and wounded more than 20 others, several of them critically, in central Jerusalem Wednesday. State-run Israel Radio said a 60-year-old woman died from a bomb blast at a crowded bus stop. Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel’s minister of public security, said militants planted the one-kilogram device in a bag on the sidewalk. There had been no claim of responsibility for the attack, the first bombing in Jerusalem in years.

Witnesses said the force of the blast – just after 1500 local time (1300 GMT) – shook buildings over a wide area. Dozens of ambulances converged on the scene near the entrance to the city, and police sealed off the area. It is believed that the bomb exploded as a bus pulled up at the stop, but it is not clear if passengers on the bus were among the casualties.

A correspondent for AFP news agency at the scene said people were lying on the ground covered in blood and many cars and buses had shattered windows.

“(We believe) the device weighed about 1-2 kg,” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Israel’s Channel 2 television. “It exploded in a small suitcase on the sidewalk next to the bus stop.” (BBC)

Motti Bukchin, a volunteer with the Israeli emergency service Zaka, said he and his colleagues were in a meeting nearby when they heard the blast. “When we arrived at the site of the attack we saw two women lying in huge pools of blood on the pavement. We began resuscitation immediately and were soon joined by other medical personnel. The two women were evacuated to hospital in serious to critical condition,” he said. (BBC)

The explosion took place in a crowded area with “a lot of civilians and two buses,” said Yonatan Yagadovsky, a spokesman for Israel’s emergency services. “Three to four are in serious condition. The rest of the casualties are moderately to lightly injured,” he said before the woman’s death was announced. The injuries came from both the force of the blast and from flying shrapnel, he said. (CNN)

The blast “brings very bad memories to us,” Yagadovsky told reporters. “It was relatively very quiet,” he said, adding that Israel had not had “this type of terror attack for a very, very long time.” (CNN)

“I knew instantly that it was a terrorist attack,” Yair Zimmerman, a volunteer medic who was on one of the buses, said in an interview. “I told the driver to move forward several meters and to open the door,” he said, speaking at Shaare Zedek hospital where he and 13 others had been taken. “When I went out, I saw that a kid had been thrown six or seven meters. I saw four or five people lying on the ground badly hurt, including a woman in a pool of blood. There was a terrible smell of burnt plastic and blood.” (New York Times)

The woman who was killed suffered a chest injury in the blast and died a short time later, according to officials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. They did not provide any information on her identity.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfield told the BBC that they were searching for a suspect and a vehicle believed to have been used in planting the bomb. Dozens of police officers and soldiers combed through debris for fragments of the bomb. The police were searching for a car that they said had been seen fleeing the scene, and checkpoints were set up on roads across the country as police searched for suspects.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to Cairo, denounced what he called “a horrific terrorist attack” but said he did not think the situation in Israel was deteriorating. (Reuters)

Jerusalem was hit by a series of bombings – mostly targeting buses and restaurants – during the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. However the attacks have stopped in recent years. Jerusalem last experienced a bus bombing in 2004.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement saying, “We will not tolerate the harming of Israeli citizens, not in the towns in the south and not in Jerusalem.” The Israel Defence Force will continue to protect citizens, he said. “There will be ups and downs, not everything will end tomorrow, but we are determined to bring back security and calm.” (CNN)

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad strongly condemned the bombing as a “terrorist act” and said it was counter-productive for the Palestinian cause. “It is disgraceful… and greatly damaging to the struggle… that there is still a Palestinian party that insists on these actions and the disgraceful scenes under empty slogans that are no longer valid for our people,” he said in a prepared statement. “These actions are in contravention with the legitimate quest to obtain freedom by peaceful means,” he said. (CNN)

The latest attack comes amid heightened tension in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country will react “aggressively, responsibly and wisely” to a recent wave of Palestinian violence. He issued his statement just hours after the bomb blast. (CBC) Netanyahu said he spent the evening huddled with top security officials to discuss the situation. He spoke to reporters just before boarding a flight to Russia, where he said he would discuss Israel’s security situation with that country’s leaders.

“It could be that this matter will entail exchanges of blows, and it may take a certain period of time, but we are very determine to strike at the terrorist elements and deny them the means of attacking our civilians,” he told parliament. (Reuters)

The leaders of the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank also condemned the deadly bombing.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad denounced it in “the strongest terms,” while his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas, traveling in Russia, issued a similar statement. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Gaza militants barraged southern Israel with rockets and mortars Wednesday, drawing retaliatory Israeli strikes in a worrisome escalation of the gravest hostilities in the area since Israel went to war in the Palestinian territory two years ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed decisive action against militants. “No state would tolerate ongoing rocket fire on its cities and its citizens, and the state of Israel obviously will not tolerate it,” Netanyahu said in parliament following the latest escalation. (CBC)

A text message from Gaza’s Hamas rulers said the territory’s prime minister had been in contact with militant factions trying to keep the postwar truce from unravelling. The Islamic Jihad militant group said it fired rockets at four Israeli cities to avenge Israel’s killing of eight militants and civilians in Gaza the day before. The group said one of its fighters was killed Wednesday in an Israeli airstrike, and Israeli police said an Israeli civilian was wounded by rocket shrapnel in southern Israel’s largest city, Beersheba.

A small faction allied with Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group claimed responsibility for a volley of mortars that struck Israel.

The killing of three children and their uncle Tuesday in what Israel called an errant shelling dramatically escalated the recent flare in violence. Hamas declared a day of mourning Wednesday and appealed to all Gazans to take part in the day’s funerals. Dozens of weeping women dressed in black gathered at the house of three of the victims. Pieces of flesh stuck to the outer wall of the house, which was pocked by shrapnel. Relatives fired their personal weapons into the air in mourning.

Thousands, meanwhile, participated in the funerals of the four Islamic Jihad fighters killed on Tuesday. Gunmen fired in the air, chanting “God is Great” and “Revenge, revenge.” (CBC)

Israel and Hamas have largely observed a truce since the Israeli military offensive in Gaza ended in January 2009. But with the ceasefire fraying in the past week, Netanyahu threatened to respond vigorously to the stepped-up attacks from Gaza. “It’s possible that blows will be exchanged, it’s possible it will continue for some time. But we are very resolved to strike at terror elements and block their ability to hurt our citizens,” he said. Netanyahu did not elaborate. But Israel Radio reported that he planned to huddle with security officials to discuss strategy. (CBC)

Earlier in the day, Israeli Home Front Minster Matan Vilnai predicted that a military confrontation with Hamas was “only a matter of time… We are taking all appropriate steps in this direction,” Vilnai told Army Radio. (CBC)

The Hamas text message said Gaza Prime Minister Ismali Haniyeh had made a round of calls to militant leaders, including Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shalah, trying to defuse the violence. Both Israel and Hamas are thought to be reluctant to engage in another war, after the 2009 conflict killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians and heavily damaged thousands of homes and businesses. Thirteen Israelis also died, and Israel’s image was badly tarnished by allegations of war crimes that the Israeli government denies.

But although the war inflicted heavy damage on Hamas, the Iranian-backed group has replenished its arsenal with bigger and better weapons. Last week, Israel intercepted a cargo ship that it said was loaded with sophisticated anti-ship missiles and other arms sent from Tehran to Gaza.

Over the weekend, Gaza militants launched their heaviest mortar barrage against Israel in years following an Israeli airstrike, stoking a new round of violence. The mortar shells fired Saturday were the same type as those intercepted last week on the cargo ship, Israel said.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the Jerusalem attack “as well as the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza in recent days. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties,” he said. (BBC) “There is never any possible justification for terrorism,” he added. (CNN)

Condemnation also came from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who said “such attacks are unacceptable.” (BBC)

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague described the attack as “shocking and deeply distressing.” (BBC)

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, called on the public to be alert but to “return to regular routine as quickly as possible… When terror attempts disrupt our way of life, the best solution is to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Events in Jerusalem will not be cancelled and Jerusalem will not stop running,” he said. (BBC) Mayor Barkat condemned the “cowardly terrorist attack” in which “innocent people were hurt.” (CNN)

“Israel and Jerusalem are relatively very safe recently,” Barkat told CNN. “This is something that happens rarely, and we hope to keep it that way.” He said he hopes security forces will find the people responsible and “bring them to justice.” (CNN)

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