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Suicide bomber blows up Jerusalem bus

A suicide bomber blew up a bus in central Jerusalem today, killing at least 16 people, wounding nearly 70 others and blowing a hole in the “road map” to peace.

The attack occurred on Jaffa Road, near a busy outdoor market during the afternoon rush hour.

Jerusalem police chief Mickey
Levy told Haaretz the bomber, dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, boarded city bus No. 14 and detonated a large explosive device. Palestinians identified the bomber as Abdel Madi Shabneh, an 18-year-old high-school student from the West Bank town of Hebron, reports the Associated Press.

“There was an enormous explosion,” a witness, identified only as Danny, told Israel Radio. He said some passengers managed to climb out of the bus after the blast.

Another witness, Ofir Alon, said he was standing on a nearby street corner at the time.

“I heard a blast … then I heard people yelling and running in the direction of the explosion, screaming ‘attack,'” he said.

Television footage shows a scorched shell of a bus with its roof half blown off.

Press reports put the death toll at 16 people, with 68 others injured – some critically.

Ten of the deceased were passengers on the bus, the remainder were nearby pedestrians.

The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

It comes hours after the group vowed an “earthquake” of revenge attacks in retaliation for Israel’s attempted assassination yesterday of the group’s political chief.

In that assault, Israeli helicopters fired several missiles at the car of Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi in Gaza City, killing one of Rantissi’s aides and a bystander.

Rantissi escaped with light injuries.

“From now on all options are open. We will attack at the heart of the Zionist enemy. Our response will be very hard, of the magnitude of an earthquake,” Hamas spokesman Ezzedin al-Qassam warned in a statement issued in Gaza City. “All Israelis are targets from now on and we have ordered our groups to carry out suicide attacks” in all of former Palestine.”

About an hour after the Jerusalem bus bombing, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car in a Gaza Strip neighborhood, killing at least six people, according to Palestinian hospital officials.

Israel’s Channel Ten reports Hamas
militant Tito Masoud was killed in the strike.

The Associated Press reports two Hamas militants, and five other people died.

The terror attack and retaliatory strike threaten to derail the Mideast “road map,” the U.S.-backed peace plan that sets benchmarks and a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to apologize for the attempted targeted killing, following a rare rebuke from President George W. Bush.

“We will make no concessions to terror,” a government official quoted Sharon as telling his Cabinet, according to the Associated Press. “We made this clear to all the White House officials and to the Palestinians before the Aqaba summit.”

Bush strongly condemned today’s bus bombing.

“For the people in the world who want to see peace in the Middle East, I strongly urge all of you to fight off terror, to cut off money to organizations such as Hamas, to isolate those who hate so much that they’re willing to kill to stop peace from going forward,” he said.

The Jerusalem Post reports Israeli security forces have arrested 10 Palestinians suspected of plotting suicide bombings since the three-way Aqaba Summit a week ago. One of the suspects, a 16-year-old from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, allegedly planned to carry out an attack in Netanya for Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

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