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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Israeli pull-out on hold after bombing
Wreckage of bus
The bomber struck during the morning rush hour
At least eight people have been killed and more than a dozen injured in a suicide attack on a bus near the Israeli city of Haifa.

In response, Israel called off any further withdrawals from West Bank towns because the anti-terror operation there was not yet complete.

There was wreckage everywhere, you could see people just falling out of the windows

Eyewitness Dan Jacobi
The bombing was the second major attack against civilians since the army launched its massive military operation in the West Bank on 29 March to halt such attacks.

The explosion tore through the bus crowded with early morning commuters, throwing bodies and wreckage along the road.

The bus, which was travelling towards Jerusalem, blew up at Yagur Junction, about 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the northern port city, at about 0715 (0415GMT).

"Suddenly I saw a part of the roof of the bus blowing up in the air. There was wreckage everywhere, you could see people just falling out of the windows," said Dan Jacobi, who was driving behind the bus when it exploded.

The blast comes a day after Israel lost 13 reservists with another seven injured in co-ordinated ambushes at a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin.

A police chief in northern Israel said the suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt shortly after boarding the bus.

The militant group Hamas said it was behind the attack. The bomber was also killed.

Israel's operation

Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Naveh said Wednesday's attack was proof of the need for further Israeli action.

"We lost at least eight of our people this morning in Haifa, 13 of our soldiers in Jenin yesterday, and it has emphasised why we need some more time in order to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian towns," Mr Naveh told the BBC.

Palestinian Hana Saidachmad was injured during fighting in Dura
Civilians have also been hurt in Israel's operation
But Palestinian official Ahmad Abd-al-Rahman said the suicide operations would continue so long as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territory.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defied US calls for troop withdrawals and vowed to continue the campaign.

"This is a battle for survival of the Jewish people, for survival of the state of Israel," Mr Sharon said in a televised address to the nation.

The offensive was launched in response to a suicide bombing that killed 27 people celebrating Passover at a hotel in Netanya.

Global pressure

On Wednesday, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia urged Israel "to halt immediately" its military operations.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation
The statement came after a meeting in Madrid between US Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar representing the EU, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

The leaders also strongly condemned Wednesday's suicide bombing.

Mr Annan called the bombing "morally repugnant."

And Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique told Spanish radio: "There is nothing to justify suicide attacks. They are acts of terrorism."

In Washington, the White House spokesman said the suicide attack "reinforces for the president the need for all parties to step back, for Israel to withdraw, and for the Palestinians and the Arabs to stop the violence, stop the killing."

Priest wounded

In Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen continued to exchange fire at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.

An Armenian priest was seriously wounded in the crossfire.

Palestinians said Father Mahir Arman was hurt when Israeli troops fired into the Armenian part of the church.

But the Israeli army said the priest was shot as soldiers were delivering food and medicine to the clerics inside, noting that there were Palestinian gunmen on nearby rooftops.

Jenin fighting

In Jenin, witnesses say Israeli bulldozers are destroying homes and people have been ordered to leave.

Fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp has been the fiercest in Israel's latest military operation.

Mark Robinson cries during the funeral of his son Matnya, killed in Jenin
Mark Robinson's son Matnya was killed in Jenin
Israel says 150 Palestinians died in Jenin but Palestinians say the number is far higher.

The Israeli army said 28 members of its security forces were killed during the operation, including the 13 killed in Tuesday's ambush.

About 200 Palestinians, some of them armed, have surrendered in Jenin, according to Israeli sources. Palestinian sources said the chief of the Islamic Jihad group there, Mahmud Tawalbeh, had been killed.

On Tuesday, Israeli troops pulled out of Qalqilya and Tulkarm.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke reports from Haifa
"Israeli soldiers and civilians on board had little chance, they were caught in a hail of metal"
Senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official Arie Mekel
"This situation cannot continue and it will not continue"
Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Zaid Abu Zayyad
"Israel has to understand this occupation must come to an end"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | Middle East
'I saw bodies everywhere'
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
Suicide bomb fears haunt Israelis
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell plans to meet Arafat
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Aid held up outside Jenin
09 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Bush's Israeli dilemma
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israelis back Sharon
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
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