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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 10:35 GMT
Analysis: Blast hits Israeli Arabs
Northern Israel bus blast
The bomber may have been on a different mission
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By BBC News Online's Martin Asser in Jerusalem

The blast on a bus in Northern Israel carrying Arab citizens of that country is extremely unusual in the context of the past 18 months of bloodshed in the Middle East.

First reports indicated the bomber deliberately detonated his explosives soon after getting on the bus.

[Arab Israelis] are not, on the whole, a target for Palestinian militant attacks

But he may well have been on a different suicide mission to the one which occurred, because most of the people on the bus were so-called Arab-Israelis, some of the one million-or-so Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin.

These people - who stayed put when Israel was established in what had been British-ruled Palestine in 1948 - are not, on the whole, a target for Palestinian militant attacks.

Only those - generally pro-Israeli Bedouin and Druze - who serve in the apparatus of what Palestinians see as the brutal occupation of their land are considered the enemy.

But neither the bus's route - Tel Aviv to Nazareth - nor its passengers, reported to be mainly Arab labourers, suggest that such people were on board.

Arafat blamed

Reports in Israel identified it as the work of a Palestinian suicide bomber, while Israeli officials blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not calling an end to the violence.

It appears to be the latest of a series of such attacks in Israel, which have occurred with increasing frequency in the past two months.

It is seen by Israelis as an emphatic answer from the Palestinian militants to US envoy Anthony Zinni's efforts to reach a ceasefire and to concessions offered by the Israeli Government to Mr Arafat.

Palestinian officials, for their part, have deplored the attack, as they always do in the case of attacks against civilians, whether they are Jews or Arabs.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"More than 20 people have been injured"
See also:

20 Mar 02 | Middle East
Blast hits Israeli bus
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
20 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney offers olive branch to Arafat
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