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Blast Kills 7 at University in Jerusalem


JERUSALEM — A powerful bomb ripped apart a crowded cafeteria at Jerusalem's Hebrew University on Wednesday, killing seven people--three of them Americans--and wounding nearly 100 others as they were sitting down to lunch. Israeli Jews and Arabs and other foreign nationals were also among the casualties.

The military wing of Hamas, a radical Islamic group, claimed responsibility for the attack at Israel's oldest and most prestigious institution of higher education. The bombing, inside a student center named for Frank Sinatra, was to avenge Israel's killing last week of the top Hamas military commander and 14 other Palestinians, most of them children, a Hamas spokesman said.

Israeli police said the nail-studded bomb appeared to have been hidden in a bag and planted under or on top of cafeteria tables, then detonated by an assailant who escaped--a departure from the suicide bombings that have terrorized Israel for months.

Besides the three Americans killed, four were injured, a State Department spokeswoman said in Washington.

One of the dead was identified by a family spokesman as 36-year-old Janis Ruth Coulter, assistant director of graduate studies based at Hebrew University's New York office, Associated Press reported.

Coulter had been escorting U.S. students to Israel, the spokesman, Harry King, said in Boston, where the victim's family lives. "Janis Ruth was a wonderful, loving, caring person," he said.

The attack shattered a sense--an illusion, perhaps--that the university was an oasis, a sanctuary from daily violence. The sprawling Mt. Scopus campus on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem was a place of higher learning for Jews and Arabs, as well as foreign students. It had remained relatively free of the strife engulfing the world just outside its metal gates.

Especially in the cafeteria, where the bomb wreaked devastation, students of many nationalities and ethnic backgrounds had mixed casually--a rarity in a land polarized by hatred and revenge.

Despite the summer break, the university was busy. Hundreds of students were present to take exams. Summer Hebrew-language courses popular with foreigners had just begun.

"No one would have expected this to happen here," Alastair Goldrein, a British national taking Jewish studies at the school, told reporters at the scene. He had just approached the cafeteria when the explosion shook the ground. "Why would someone target this university? This is what was best about Israel."

Dazed, blood-spattered students staggered from the building in the minutes after the blast. Rescue workers rushed up the narrow streets to the cafeteria, located at the heart of the campus.

The interior was etched in panic. Upturned chairs were scattered on the bloodied floor; abandoned water bottles littered the tables. The force of the blast blew windows and glass facades to bits and tore panels from the ceiling. The stench of smoke and burned flesh wafted through the air.

"After the blast, everything went black, and you feel like you are trapped inside a balloon, being sucked away or dragged by some force," Yossi Halfon told Israeli radio. "I found myself running outside, away from the cafeteria."

The Israeli government branded the bombing "a despicable act so horrendous it defies words." It said it makes no distinction between Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, on whom Israeli officials said the ultimate blame rests.

"No cause, no sense of deprivation, no argument can possibly justify killing innocent teenagers in a discotheque, in a coffee shop or, today, in the cafeteria of Hebrew University," said Dore Gold, an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing but said Sharon and his "policies of destruction and collective punishment" bore the ultimate blame.

In Washington, President Bush condemned the bombing. "There are clearly killers who hate the thought of peace and, therefore, are willing to take their hatred to all kinds of places, including a university," he said.

Wednesday's attack was the second Palestinian bombing in two days. On Tuesday, a 17-year-old Palestinian blew himself up at a popular falafel stand in central Jerusalem, wounding five people but killing no one else.

Hamas is threatening a long campaign of revenge attacks. Even before Wednesday's bombing, Israel's top internal security official, Avi Dichter, had told a parliamentary committee that intelligence services believed that at least 60 attacks were being planned.

"If they are going to attack our children, then they will have to expect to drink from the same poison," Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh said Wednesday in Gaza City, where hundreds of Hamas supporters poured into the streets late in the day to celebrate the university bombing and vow more attacks.

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