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Israeli Bus Driver Describes Holding Down Suicide Bomber


JERUSALEM — An Israeli bus driver trying to resuscitate a fallen passenger who had attempted to board through a closing door opened the man's shirt and discovered wires leading to a bomb.

The Palestinian bomber managed to kill himself and an elderly Israeli woman despite efforts by the driver and other passengers to foil the bombing.

One of the odder suicide bombings in the last two years, the incident Thursday near Tel Aviv came during a spike in fighting throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During a raid in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians, one of them a 12-year-old boy.

"We've said we're deeply troubled by the recent upsurge of violence in the region," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We've looked to both sides to take steps that can end the violence."

The suicide bomber was identified as Rafik Hamad, 31, a father of four children from the West Bank town of Hable. The incident took place during the morning rush hour in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, not far from Bar Ilan University. Baruch Neuman, the Dan Bus Co. driver on line 87, was pulling out of a bus stop with a full load of passengers when a man tried to jump through the closing back door, lost his balance and banged his head on the pavement.

Passengers thought the man was a frantic commuter late for work, and so did the driver.

"Well, this of course isn't how people normally board a bus, but I didn't think this was a terrorist," Neuman, who escaped unharmed, recalled on Thursday.

Neuman, 50, pulled his hand brake and jumped out to see what had happened. A female medic who was also a passenger followed and started to unbutton the man's shirt to administer first aid.

"By the time she reached the third button, we saw that something wasn't right," Neuman said. "A fraction of a second later, it clicked."

He and the medic jumped on the barely conscious man and pinned his arms and legs to the ground. They screamed for other people to run away from the area. But the bomber soon began to wriggle free.

"We saw wires sticking out toward his pants, and we knew the crucial moment was approaching," Neuman said.

The bus driver and the medic let go simultaneously and made a run for it. The bomber stood up, staggered a few feet and then blew up.

The bus driver and police were unable to explain how it was that the Israeli woman killed, 71-year-old Saada Aharon, did not manage to get away. Twelve people were injured, but not critically.

Hamas, a militant Islamic movement, took responsibility for the bombing. It said the attack was to avenge a deadly Israeli raid Monday morning on the Gaza city of Khan Yunis that left at least 16 people dead and also a July attack against a Hamas leader.

Israel is in the midst of a renewed push to crack down on Hamas, and more attempted bombings are expected in the coming days.

In Gaza City, meanwhile, 20,000 Palestinian police officers and militiamen marched in a funeral for a police colonel who was slain by Hamas members Monday, Associated Press reported. Hamas said the killing was an independent act, but many activists in Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement blame Hamas itself, and their march was a show of force.

A banner the marchers carried read: "All factions have to respect the Palestinian Authority, the only legitimate authority."


Batsheva Sobelman of The Times' Jerusalem Bureau contributed to this report.

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