Attack 'shows need for Israeli barrier'
A PALESTINIAN suicide bomber blew himself up on a packed commuter bus in Jerusalem yesterday, killing eight other people and injuring more than 60 a day before the world court was to begin hearings on Israel’s disputed West Bank barrier.
Israeli officials said the attack - the 110th suicide bombing in more than three years of violence - proved the need to continue building the barrier to keep out future bombers.
"Today, there are more funerals, more suffering, more proof that there’s no end to the hatred of Israelis," said Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister. "We will continue to take all necessary measures to provide security for our citizens, including the security fence."
Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defence minister, met with top security officials yesterday to discuss possible responses to the attack.
The bomb exploded during the morning rush hour, when the bus was packed with workers and school children.
"There was a strong explosion that tore people to pieces," said Nir Barkat, a Jerusalem city councillor, who was driving near the scene and helped the survivors. "I had to take people out one by one. There were a number of kids whose bleeding we had to stop. I had to step on bodies."
Raed Shuweiki, who works at a petrol station across the street from the bomb site, said: "There was a boom and everything flew out the window. Hands flew into the street. I heard people screaming, ‘Save me’, ‘Save me’."
The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant group loosely affiliated with the Fatah movement of Ahmed Qurie, the Palestinian prime minister, and Yasser Arafat, the president, claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the bomber as Mohammed Zool, 23, from the Hussan, near Bethlehem.
The attack was a reaction to Israel’s building of the barrier in the West Bank and to an Israeli army raid ten days ago in the Gaza Strip, in which 15 Palestinians were killed, added the group.
Both Mr Arafat and Mr Qurie condemned the bombing.
Many of the injured and at least one of those killed were pupils on their way to classes at a nearby high school. Desperate relatives were at the scene of the bombing yesterday, searching for loved ones.
Israeli troops sealed off Bethlehem and gathered about a dozen Palestinian men near a checkpoint, forcing them to crouch facing a wall with their hands behind their necks.
The explosion ripped apart the back of the bus, scattering body parts and shattering glass across a two-block radius. The windows were blown out, the windshield splintered and the roof buckled.
"I felt blood on my head. I saw terrible things. I tried not to look," said Moshe Salama, 56, whose glasses were cracked by a piece of flying debris.
"There was a very strong noise of a bomb and a fierce light, like lightning," said Nili Amotz, 57, a social worker wounded in the bombing.
"It was like an earthquake," said Ora Yairov, on Israel television.
Bodies lay on the sidewalk an hour after the blast. Rescue workers wrapped them in white sheets and put body parts in bags.
Police allowed a cameraman to board what was left of the bus and film there. The shots will most likely become part of Israel’s bid to boost its case for the separation barrier, which the government says is aimed precisely to prevent such terrorist infiltrations.
The International Court of Justice will hear arguments beginning today against the barrier, which includes fences, walls and ditches, and is one- third complete.
The Palestinians say the barrier, which dips into the West Bank, disrupts the lives of thousands of people and amounts to an Israeli effort to take land they want for a future state.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that in its current route, the barrier violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, while human rights groups have sharply condemned it for harming the Palestinian population.
"There is a cynical effort under way to deny Israel its right to self defence," said Tzahi Hanegbi, the police minister, at the blast site.
"This fence is the most effective way to stop terrorism. It is not there to humiliate the Palestinians, it is a barrier to people like the person who reached here today. It needs to be completed as soon as possible."
Mr Barkat acknowledged the barrier causes hardship to Palestinians, but said: "Life is more important than the quality of life."
Mr Qurie condemned the attack, and called on all Palestinian factions to put "an immediate halt to these actions", which, he said, give Israel an excuse to build the barrier and conduct army raids.
But Hamas immediately rebuffed his call and denounced Mr Qurie’s condemnation.
"The one who is responsible for carrying out this attack is the Palestinian nation, which opposes occupation with all its nationalist and Islamic forces," said the Hamas leader, Abdul Aziz Rantisi.
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