|Deadly Terror Attack On Israeli
suicide bomber blew himself up aboard a crowded bus in the northern city
of Haifa on Wednesday, killing at least 14 people and injuring dozens,
The blast ripped off the roof of the No. 37 bus, strewing wreckage and body parts across the street. Witnesses said the explosion occurred just after the bus stopped in the hilltop neighborhood Carmelia at about 2:17 p.m. Officials said because of the hour, 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 is pressing ahead with a two-week-old offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza, and as the Palestinian Authority is considering far-reaching reforms.
In the past Israel has reacted with tough military measures after such attacks and has blamed Yasser Arafat, saying the Palestinian Authority does nothing to prevent terrorism.
"Once again the bestial hand of Palestinian terrorism has struck at the heart of Israel," said Mark Sofer, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that in the past two months Israeli forces had thwarted almost 100 attempted attacks.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned "any attack that is targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli. But 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, and police sources said at least 10 people were killed.
Avi Zohar, a rescues services spokesman, said there were "dozens of casualties, among them at least two dozen seriously injured. Some of the wounded were being treated at the scene, and others were evacuated.
"I suddenly heard a huge explosion and all the lights in my beauty parlor broke," said beautician Ronen Levy. "I am still in shock."
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 in the blast, 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 bombing was the second major terrorist attack in as many days, coming after Tuesday's bombing at an airport in the Philippines, which killed 21 and injured 117. There is no evidence the attacks are related.
It was the first terror attack in Israel since Jan. 5, when a pair of suicide bombers killed 23 people in Tel Aviv. In the past, such attacks have brought on tough Israeli military responses.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a spokesman for the Islamic militant Hamas group, 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.
Wednesday's attack follows an Israeli crackdown in the occupied territories following the deaths of four Israeli soldiers in an attack on their tank on Feb. 15. Hamas claimed responsibility for that bombing.
Israel's new government, which was sworn in last week, has promised stepped up military strikes against suspected militants and their infrastructure. In two weeks of back-to-back raids in Gaza and the West Bank more than 50 Palestinians have been killed.
Hamas has been vowing revenge for those killings, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.
As part of that crackdown, Israeli soldiers on Wednesday demolished the home of a suspected suicide bomber in the West Bank and removed the remains of a neighborhood mosque on the Gaza-Egypt border.
In a political development, Palestinians said Tuesday that Yasser Arafat is considering appointing billionaire businessman Monib al-Masri, 65, as prime minister, but officials from Arafat's Fatah movement insisted that the premier must come from Fatah, preferring Arafat's longtime deputy, Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas, a moderate, is tipped as a possible successor to Arafat. He has called the violent 29-month Palestinian struggle a mistake.
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