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Bomb blast kills one in Jerusalem

One woman is killed and about two dozen people are wounded in the Jerusalem attack, the first there in four years and the latest sign of escalating violence. Israel vows a strong response.

March 24, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Jerusalem — The first bombing to rock Jerusalem in four years killed an Israeli woman and wounded two dozen people Wednesday, the latest sign of escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians since short-lived peace talks collapsed last year.

Police officials suspect that the bomb was left in a bag next to a crowded bus stop near the central bus station. The blast sprayed shrapnel, set passengers' clothing on fire and blew out bus windows.

A suspect was seen fleeing the area, police said. No group claimed immediate responsibility.

In chaotic scenes that conjured unpleasant memories of a time when bombings were a near-weekly occurrence, police cordoned off the blood-stained pavement around the bus stop as blue-gloved investigators picked through glass and debris searching for evidence. Helicopters buzzed overhead.

Shortly after the attack, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men and students mobbed the area chanting "death to Arabs" and "death to leftists."

The explosion, which echoed throughout the city, came amid growing violence in the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Earlier Wednesday, Gaza militants fired several rockets and mortar shells into the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashdod, wounding one person, Israeli military officials said.

Palestinians said the attacks were in response to Israel's shelling and airstrikes a day earlier against half a dozen sites in Gaza. The attacks killed eight Palestinians, including three children who were hit as they played soccer outside their home.

Less than two weeks ago, unknown assailants stabbed to death five members of a Jewish family, including three children, as they slept in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, near Nablus.

In a statement issued Wednesday from the White House, President Obama offered condolences to Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence. "We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties," the statement said.

In a televised address made shortly before leaving for a trip to Russia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that terrorists would "find that the government, the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli public have the iron will to defend the country and its citizens. We will take firm, responsible and wise action to preserve the quiet and security that we have had for the past two years."

Jerusalem officials said they would tighten security in the city. But Mayor Nir Barkat encouraged residents to resume daily activities without fear.

"Residents of Jerusalem should go back to their normal lives as fast as possible to show the people trying to terrorize us that it will not work,"' he said during a visit to the bombing scene.

But in southern Israel, residents were warned to stay close to bomb shelters and schools were closed for the rest of the week.

For many Jerusalem residents, Wednesday's bombing was a disturbing echo of the past.

"We hoped these days were gone, but I didn't really believe they were over," said Aviad Hadad, 18, who was inside the bus station when the blast occurred. "It looks pretty clear that there's a third intifada around the corner. They mustn't wait for there to be more of these. The government has to take action to prevent it."

Some conservative Knesset members said the bomb attack should compel the government to abandon further efforts to reach a peace agreement with Palestinians.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, from the religious Shas party, said the government would consider reactivating antiterroism operations that have diminished in recent years as violence subsided. "It will not be possible to refrain from launching an operation," he said.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salem Fayyad condemned the attacks.

"It is disgraceful that after all the harm such acts have brought to our people and our just cause, a Palestinian group would adopt such despicable methods … [that] contradict the struggle for independence through peaceful means."

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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

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