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March 23, 2011
 

Blast Strikes Outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station

JERUSALEM — A small bomb exploded at a crowded bus stop outside Jerusalem’s main bus station on Wednesday, leaving at least 25 injured — one critically and two seriously — in what Israeli officials called a terrorist attack. The bombing was the first inside Jerusalem in four years.

 

Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the minister of internal security, said the device was relatively small, weighing between two and a little over four pounds, and had been left in a bag near a city bus stop at the western edge of the city, outside the International Convention Center and across from the central station. Local news media reported that there was no sign of a body at the scene to indicate a suicide attack.

Most of those injured were standing on the street waiting for the bus to arrive along the crowded road at the city’s western edge. Television images showed people carried away in stretchers.

At the time of the blast, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was meeting with senior members of the security establishment for consultations about the escalation of violence along the border with Gaza. Mr. Netanyahu was supposed to leave for Russia at 5 p.m. local time, about two hours after the explosion, but a spokesman for the prime minister said he had decided to delay his departure.

Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, told reporters at the scene that Israel was witnessing “an escalation on all fronts.” Checkpoints have been set up on roads across Israel as police search for suspects.

“The actions of the terrorist organizations obligate us to act,” he said, without elaborating.

Tensions have mounted after a stray Israeli mortar shell killed three Palestinian youths and a 60-year-old man on Tuesday as Israel responded to a rocket attack a day earlier. Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired rockets deep into southern, and Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza.

At least one Katyusha-type rocket hit a street in the center of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on Wednesday morning, slightly wounding one man and causing damage to nearby houses. Several mortar shells also fell on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, the Israeli military said.

In a separate attack on Tuesday night, the Israeli Air Force killed four militants in a car, all members of Islamic Jihad, the organization and the Israeli military said. The army said the men were preparing to launch rockets at Israel.

The bomb at the bus stop on Wednesday detonated as two buses pulled into the crowded stop, a passenger on one of the buses, Yair Zimmerman, said on local radio. Small holes were seen in the body of one of the buses, suggesting the explosive device had been packed with ball-bearings, to increase the level of damage.

The police were searching for a car that they said had been seen fleeing the scene. Dozens of police officers and soldiers combed through debris for fragments of the bomb. The bus station is adjacent to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Givat Shaul, and hundreds of ultra-orthodox young men gathered at the scene after the explosion.

In Gaza, two militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, praised and welcomed the attack. But there were no claims of responsibility.

Two weeks ago, a municipal worker lost his hand when a pipe bomb exploded in a trash bag in the southern section of Jerusalem. There were no claims of responsibility or arrests in that case.

The Jerusalem police commander, Aharon Franco, said in a televised interview that the police would also investigate whether there was any link between this attack and earlier pipe bomb explosion. “Despite the calm of the last few years, we are calling on the public to be alert,” the police commander said.

 

Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem and J. David Goodman from New York. Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Fares Akram from Gaza.

 

 

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