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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 16:36 GMT
Suicide bomber hits Jerusalem bus
Israeli soldier looks down on scene of bombing
The bomb was designed to cause maximum casualties
A Palestinian suicide bomber has killed eight people and injured dozens in an attack on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem.

The explosion ripped through the crowded vehicle at the height of the city's morning rush hour.

It came a short time after Israel began dismantling a small section of its controversial "security" barrier in the West Bank.

On Monday, hearings begin at the International Court of Justice in The Hague into the legality of the barrier.

The militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.

It was like an earthquake
Eyewitness
The group identified the bomber as 23-year-old Muhammad Zaal from the West Bank village of Hussan, near Bethlehem.

Palestinian militants had been threatening to avenge an Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip two weeks ago which left 15 Palestinians dead.

Soon after the bombing, there were reports that Israeli troops had sealed off Bethlehem and that Palestinian police had left their posts in the town.

Metal shards

The blast occurred on the number 14 bus in the affluent German Colony residential area of west Jerusalem at about 0830 local time (0630GMT) as it was waiting at traffic lights at an intersection.


The death toll, which was initially put at seven, rose later in the day as another victim was confirmed.

"DNA tests allowed us to identify an eighth victim," police spokesman Gil Kleiman told AFP news agency.

A spokesman for the Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, said at least 62 people were wounded, 11 of them critically.

High school students were among the passengers on the bus.

The BBC's James Reynolds, from the scene of the bombing, says dozens of emergency workers arrived quickly and began carrying out well-practised routines.

The bomb was described by the Israeli authorities as a medium-sized device that was packed with shards of metal to cause maximum death and injury.

Ora Yairov, who was at a nearby petrol station when the blast went off, told Israel's Channel One television: "It was like an earthquake. The station was filled with shattered glass and pieces of flesh."

It is just three weeks since 11 people died in the suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem a few hundred yards from the site of this latest attack.

Hundreds of Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings since the Palestinian uprising began more than three years ago.

More than 2,700 Palestinians have been killed during the same period.

'Murderers'

Israeli officials said the latest blast proved the need for its barrier, which remains under construction and has not been completed in Jerusalem.

"If there was a fence around Jerusalem there would not have been an attack today," said Justice Minister Yosef Lapid.

Injured man on stretcher
Israel says the barrier will protect its people
"The Palestinian murderers have again shown that Israel is not the aggressor, the Palestinians are, and that the fence was not meant for anything other than to save lives.

"I hope that the justices in The Hague understand the message."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei condemned the attack on civilians.

"The Palestinian government stresses that its foremost national interest demands that such acts stop as they serve as excuses for Israel to continue building its (security) wall, carry out its assassinations, raids and targeting of Palestinian civilians," a statement from his office said.

The Palestinians say the Israeli barrier amounts to a land grab because it dips deep into the West Bank in some areas, and disrupts the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

The section of the barrier that Israel has begun dismantling separates a Palestinian village - Baka al-Sharqiya - from the rest of the West Bank and has proved particularly controversial.

The section is to be re-routed.




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James Reynolds in Jerusalem
"The bombing in this city has reinforced arguments on each side"



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