Eight killed as suicide bomber blows up bus near Haifa

Eight Israelis were killed, and another 20 were injured, three of them seriously, when a suicide bomber detonated himself on a commuter Egged bus travelling Wednesday morning from Haifa to Jerusalem. The blast occurred shortly after 7 a.m. at the Yagur Junction.

"The suicide attacker apparently blew himself up (soon) after he boarded the bus," Northern Police Commander Yaakov Borovsky said at the scene. "The last stop was near here, in the Nesher area."

But the testimony of a Border Policewoman who was traveling on the bus indicated that the terrorist boarded at the Lev Hamifratz bus station, the departure point for the 960 line from the northern Haifa suburbs. The policewoman, who boarded alone at the Nesher stop, said the terrorist was sitting in the third row of seats behind the bus driver. He raised her suspicions, and she continued to the back of the bus. Moments later, the terrorist detonated his explosive belt.

"It was a horrible sight," said Staff-Sgt. Shamir Mordechai, who was riding in a car just ahead of the bus. "I felt a huge boom, and suddenly everything filled with smoke, just like a computer game. I drove through the fire, and things were flying out in all directions. Luckily I was so close to the bus, that most of the things flew over my head."

"To my regret, the sight is horrible," said eyewitness Yitzhak Rotman. "There are many dead bodies, some outside the bus, some inside ... The bus is shattered, from one end to the other."

"There are pieces everywhere, people are thrown about in every direction," another eyewitness identified as Motti told Israel Radio. The explosion occurred at a time when Highway 70 was crowded with traffic. Several passing cars were damaged by the blast, and a number of motorists were wounded. The bomb punched a huge hole through the roof of the bus.

The Izzadin al-Qassam military wing of the Hamas claimed credit for the bombing attack in a telephone call to the al-Jazeera television channel. David Baker, a spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office, said, "Apparently the Palestinian terrorists' appetite for terror has yet to be quenched."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arieh Mekel said the bombing was a sign that the Palestinians were intent on disrupting the cease-fire mission of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is due to arrive in Israel late Thursday.

The bus bombing was the first terrorist attack since the start of Operation Defensive Shield. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz said this week that one of the major achievements of the IDF military operation was the prevention of terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

Police launched an investigation into the possibility that the bomber was aided by others. It was unclear from where he set off on his suicide mission. Military sources discounted the possibility that he left from either Kalkilya or Tulkarm, the two Palestinian cities from which the IDF withdrew on Tuesday morning. More likely, they suggested, was the possibility that the terrorist attack originated from Palestinian territories where the IDF has not yet launched its counter-terrorist actions.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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