Jerusalem, Nov. 21 (Reuters): A Palestinian militant killed 11 people and injured 49 when he blew himself up on a crowded bus in Jerusalem today in the first suicide bombing in Israel since the start of a general election campaign.
The explosion ripped through a bus packed with commuters and school children during the morning rush hour. Witnesses said they heard children who had been on their way to school screaming: “Mamma, Mamma” from the wreckage.
The bombing, the first in Jerusalem since June, provided further evidence that Palestinian militants were determined to make their presence felt in the run-up to Israel’s January 28 ballot, and raised the spectre of harsh military retaliation.
“Suddenly there was a huge explosion, something fell on my head and I fell to the floor,” said Yitzhak Cohen, a middle-aged passenger on the bus. “Around me there were bodies everywhere, some of them lying one on top of the other.”
A man driving past when the bus exploded told Israel radio: “I saw people draped out of windows. Two or three children were screaming inside the bus and then they climbed out.”
Passers-by raced to help the victims, many of them burned, bloodied and sobbing. Residents of the Kiryat Menahem neighbourhood where the bombing occurred rushed from their houses desperate to learn the fate of their children.
A schoolbag full of pink workbooks lay in the debris and a piece of burned notebook paper fluttered to the ground. The charred torso of one of the victims hung out of a bus window. The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to Beirut's al-Manar television, run by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah.
Meeting on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Prague, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemned the bombing.
“It is clear that those who want to use terror to stop any process for peace are still active. In order to achieve peace all countries in the region must take responsibility, do their best to fight off terror,” Bush told reporters.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said “the spilling of innocent blood is intolerable and must stop”.
The latest violence, including Israeli military raids, threatened to undermine US efforts to achieve calm in the region while it seeks Arab support for a possible war on Iraq.
Police said the bomber — identified by police as man in his 20s from Bethlehem — was sitting at the front of a Number 20 bus and detonated his explosives as it approached a bus stop.