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Suicide bomber strikes bus, at least 7 killed

Two Palestinian suicide bombings this morning are part of a sudden surge of attacks - four in 12 hours - that appears to be timed to coincide with an Israeli-Palestinian summit.

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 18, 2003

JERUSALEM - A suicide bomber blew himself up on a Jerusalem bus early today, and at least seven passengers and the bomber were killed. At least 20 others were wounded, four in serious condition, and another bomber blew himself up on the outskirts of the city.

The attack was on a number 6 city bus at an intersection at the northern edge of the city, according to a police statement. Israel Radio said seven were killed, in addition to the bomber. Four dead passengers were still in their seats in the front of the bus, one leaning out a window, an hour after the blast.

Police said the second bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the village of Dahiya el-Barid, near Jerusalem. Police said the bomber was killed in the blast, and no one else was hurt.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Today's bombings were part of a sudden surge in Palestinian attacks - four in 12 hours - including a bombing in the West Bank city of Hebron in which an Israeli husband and wife were killed. Also, two armed Palestinians tried to attack a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and were killed by soldiers.

The attacks appeared to be timed to coincide with a summit between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians. Also, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon canceled his trip to Washington in wake of the suicide bombing. He was to talk with President Bush about the Mideast peace plan.

The bus bomber struck at a few minutes before 6 a.m. today, a work day in Israel, at the beginning of rush hour.

Witnesses said the bomb went off on a large bus divided into two sections as it neared a bridge in one of Jerusalem's largest intersections, outside the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, in the part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 war - an area that is also claimed by the Palestinians.

It was the first such attack in Jerusalem since last November. In 93 suicide attacks since the current violence erupted in September 2000, 357 bystanders have been killed. Most were carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but recently the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to the mainstream Fatah, have taken responsibility.

The attack came a few hours after the end of the first Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting in almost three years. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon met at the Israeli prime minister's Jerusalem office.

Responding to today's attack, David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, said the Palestinian Authority must use "all means available" to stop the attacks. "Palestinian terror cannot rule the Palestinian agenda," he said.

At the start of the meeting Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed his "rage" about the Hebron attack, a Sharon statement said. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "agreed that stopping terrorism is the first step toward any progress," the statement said, adding that the leaders would hold more talks. The summit could be a bellwether for future U.S. mediation efforts. If top-level Israeli-Palestinian talks can't produce results, Washington might have to press the sides harder or consider imposing solutions.

Israel says it will not budge until Abbas has taken real steps against Palestinian militias, including arrests and weapons sweeps.

Palestinian militias have threatened to sabotage peace plans, saying they would not halt attacks and would resist forcefully if Abbas tried to disarm them.

As the meeting between Abbas and Sharon was ending, two Palestinian gunmen tried to enter the Jewish settlement of Shaarei Tikvah in the West Bank, but were killed by security forces near the perimeter fence.

In the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian gunman in clashes. Nine Palestinians were wounded, including a gunman and five teenagers, doctors said. The military said two of the teens threw a firebomb at a military vehicle.

Several hundred Jewish settlers staged a protest outside Sharon's office during his meeting with Abbas. Settlers are one of Sharon's key constituencies, and the protest marked the first time they have turned against him since he began his second term in February. "Today, two people were killed in Hebron, and the prime minister is meeting with Abu Mazen," said a settler leader, Nissan Slomianski, referring to the Palestinian prime minister.

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