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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Israel foils 'suicide bombing'
Israeli controlled explosion
Israeli bomb disposal experts detonate the bomb
Israeli soldiers have dramatically prevented a Palestinian suicide bomber from blowing himself up on a bus crowded with commuters, Israeli police have said.

The driver of the passenger bus pushed a young Palestinian man off the vehicle, which was travelling from Jerusalem to the town of Qiryat Shemona in northern Israel, after he became suspicious of a bag the man was carrying.

Israel radio reported that two soldiers who had been travelling on the bus overpowered the man and managed to separate him from the bag.

Hamas demonstration
Palestinians have demanded revenge for the deaths of Hamas members in Nablus
Police, who later blew up the bag in a controlled explosion, said it contained a 22-pound bomb and was packed with nails and scrap metal.

Police spokesman Yossi Hasson said the Palestinian, aged 16 and from a Palestinian village near to where he got onto the bus, tried to detonate the bomb during the scuffle but the mechanism failed.

Search

Israeli security forces have launched a search for two accomplices said to have dropped the youth off near a bus stop in the Israeli farming village of Tel Teomim.

Reports say Israeli troops searching for the accomplices in a helicopter, grabbed the wrong man and flew off with him.

The reports say 22-year-old Murad Bsharat was later safely returned to the exact spot he was picked up at.

State of alert

Israel has been on a heightened state of alert amid warnings Palestinian militants are preparing to carry out a wave of attacks against Jewish targets.

Palestinian radicals have vowed to take revenge against Israel after its forces bombed a building in the West Bank town of Nablus on Tuesday, killing eight Palestinians, including two Hamas activists.

Pope John Paul II meets Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat urged the Pope to back a plan for international observers
As tensions continued to escalate on Thursday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope John Paul II as part of a drive to win support for a team of international observers to monitor clashes between Israel and the Palestinians.

The meeting was the tenth between Mr Arafat and the pontiff, a long-time supporter of the Palestinians' demand for self-determination.

Pope urges end to violence

In a statement issued after the talks, the Vatican said the Pope reiterated his call for an end to the violence, "be it the fruit of attacks or reprisals", but did not mention the issue of international observers.

A BBC correspondent in Rome, David Willey, said Mr Arafat conveyed to the Pope his fears that the latest killings of Palestinians in Nablus may mark the beginning of new attempts by Israel to bring down the Palestinian Authority with a programme of targeted assassinations.

In an interview with a leading Italian newspaper, La Stampa, Mr Arafat claimed that the Israeli cabinet had this week approved a plan called "Oranin" to kill high-level Palestinians.

Israel has denied the claim.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds, in Jerusalem
"It does not look like any outsiders are coming"
Hamas spokesman Dr Mahmoud Allzahar
"We have no choice but to defend ourselves against Israeli aggression"
Jordan Vatikai, Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman
"We targeted the people who have already launched a huge amount of terror attacks"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israeli soldiers held over beatings
02 Aug 01 | Middle East
Arafat lobbies Italy for observers
02 Aug 01 | Middle East
West Bank tensions escalate
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinians sentenced to death
31 Jul 01 | Middle East
Profile: Hamas activist Jamal Mansour
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Nablus funerals
03 Apr 01 | Middle East
Israel's 'assassination policy'
30 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israeli helicopters attack Gaza police
29 Jul 01 | Media reports
Arab press angry at Jerusalem violence
29 Jul 01 | Middle East
Violence erupts at Jerusalem holy site
01 Aug 01 | Media reports
Press anger over Nablus attack
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