- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

JERUSALEM | The Mideast region has braced itself for Israel’s response to a bus-stop bombing on Wednesday that killed one woman and wounded more than 20 other people, shattering nearly three years of relative calm in Jerusalem.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast, but Israeli officials immediately blamed Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threatened revenge, noting scores of rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza over the past several weeks.

“We will not tolerate the harming of Israeli citizens, not in the south and not in Jerusalem,” Mr. Barak said, according to the Associated Press. “Hamas is responsible for the firing of rockets toward Beersheba today and this responsibility has a price.”

But Egypt’s Foreign Ministry warned Israel not to engage in any military action in the Gaza Strip. “Escalation of violence will not serve the interest of any party and will not serve peace or stability,” a ministry spokesman said.

Wednesday’s bombing occurred after Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom had threatened that Israel would repeat the incursion into Gaza it carried out two years ago or resume assassinations of Hamas leaders if there was no other way to stop the rocket attacks. “The period of restraint is over,” he said.

More than 80 rockets and mortars have been fired from the Gaza Strip in the past few weeks. Some have struck as far away as the city of Beersheba, 25 miles from Gaza, but only two person were wounded in the attacks. Israel has responded with air and mortar attacks.

On Tuesday, four civilians were killed and eight wounded when Israeli mortar shells struck a Palestinian house. Israeli officials said the mortars had been aimed at a nearby olive grove from which mortars had been fired moments before at an Israeli village.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed regret over the civilian casualties but blamed Hamas for launching rockets from built-up areas.

It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the Jerusalem bombing and the Gaza incidents.

The bomb was placed in a shoulder bag and left beside a public telephone. It was detonated as passengers were exiting a bus a few feet away.

The woman who was killed in the blast was in her 50s and carried no identification papers, police said, adding that she may have been a foreigner.

The Jerusalem bomb reminded residents of the city’s situation during the three years after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, when dozens of people in Jerusalem were killed by suicide bombers, mostly on buses.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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