- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, March 5 (UPI) — At least 15 people were killed and some 40 others wounded Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated a powerful explosive in the back of a bus driving down the main road atop Mount Carmel in Haifa, police said.

The number 37 bus, driven by an Arab Christian who was also wounded, was on its way from the port area through the busy center of scenic Mount Carmel to Haifa University, according to the bus company's spokesman. The explosion blew away much of the roof and sent bodies as well as pieces of metal flying, witnesses said.

It was the first deadly suicide bombing since Jan. 5, when two members of the Palestinian Fatah group's armed wing blew themselves up in a busy pedestrian shopping mall in Tel Aviv. Twenty-three Israelis and foreigners died in that attack and 120 others were wounded.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, though Islamic Jihad and Hamas leaders in Gaza blamed the deteriorating situation on Israel's harsh policies toward Palestinians. A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority said the body condemned all attacks that targeted civilians, Israeli or Palestinian.

Commander of the Northern Police District, Maj. Gen. Yaakov Borovsky said he believed the bomber got on the bus a few stops before setting off his charge. He exploded the bomb in the area of a bus station.

Police said rescuers pulled 12 people out of the smoking skeleton of the bus who died immediately, and three died later of their wounds.

Witnesses described victims, body parts and puddles of blood scattered in the road and on the floor of the bus station. Some of the wounded were talking but others "were curled up and couldn't move," Linda Falcovitz, a teacher originally from New York, told United Press International.

Falcovitz said she had just left a nearby restaurant carrying a bottle of water when the blast ripped through the bus. She ran to an elderly man with a neck wound, let him drink and stayed with him until a medic arrived. Local residents also came out with pitchers of water, she said.

Two dentists whose clinic was a few meters away from the scene were about to begin work when they heard the blast and ran over.

"We started pulling people out (of the bus)," Shaul Linn said. To those who appeared still alive they administered respiration, he said, while others ran up with water and a fire extinguisher. The bus continued smoking long after the flames were put out.

It is not yet clear what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new and more hawkish government will do in response to the attack, if anything. Government officials have argued that expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is no solution, and the army is already in control of the West Bank. Israeli security authorities have also pointed out such attacks are increasingly difficult for militants to carry out because of occupations, curfews, a security fence being built to separate the West Bank and Israel proper, as well as successes in intercepting and arresting bombers.

Hannan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who has also been spokeswoman for the Arab League, accused Israeli Wednesday of being responsible for the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

"(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and his government want unrest and to provoke … the Palestinians to be violent," she said, in order to "justify their escalation against the Palestinians in the occupied territories."

Commenting on the two months that have past since the last suicide bombing, Ashrawi added, "While there were no attacks carried out by Palestinians, the Israeli army on the other hand intensified its actions of murder, incursion, kidnap and destruction." Some three dozen Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, mostly militants in shoot-outs with Israeli soldiers in occupied territories.

Ashrawi did not refer to a Feb. 15 attack in which Hamas militants blew up an Israeli tank, killing the four soldiers inside, however.

Abdel Aziz Ranteesi, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza praised Wednesday's attack, saying: "This martyrdom operation is coming as part of the strategy to fight the Israeli occupation and fight the Israeli terrorism."

Palestinian Authority cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the bombing, telling United Press International the PA has always denounced attacks that target either Israeli or Palestinian civilians.


(With reporting by Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza.)

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