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Israelis say bush go to hell { June 11 2003 }

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June 11, 2003
Bus Blast Kills at Least 16 in Jerusalem; Israel Hits Gaza

JERUSALEM, June 11 A suicide bomber disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew blew himself up aboard a bus in downtown Jerusalem this afternoon, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 60, the police and hospital officials said.

The blast peeled the roof off the bus, leaving the street charred and blasting windows as far as 50 feet away.

The militant group Hamas was reported to have taken responsibility for the blast, which took place during rush hour on Jaffa Road, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, near the city's central outdoor market. The market has been a frequent target of Palestinian militants in the past.

Soon after the bombing, an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in Gaza, witnesses told reporters. Reuters quoted hospital officials in Gaza as saying that a top Hamas military official, Tito Massoud, was among at least six people killed, but that was not immediately confirmed by Israeli officials.

The new violence represented another serious blow to the "road map," the American-backed peace plan for the Mideast, following a concerted attack by three Palestinian groups that killed five Israeli soldiers on Sunday and two Israeli attacks in Gaza on Tuesday.

After the bus bombing, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would continue to pursue Palestinian militants "to the fullest extent," while making every effort to make peace with the Palestinians.

A witness to the bus bombing today, Eliyahu Shmueli, 36, a municipal worker, said he had been 15 yards away from the bus.

"There was an explosion, a horrible boom," he said at the local Bikar Cholim hospital, where he was being treated for minor burns to his hands. "The bus was set on fire, and I ran in the direction of the bus and I saw people on fire."

Mr. Shmueli said that a woman who was on fire was hanging out of the bus, and that he had tried to get her out. "Her face was on fire, her chest, her legs," he said as he sat on a hospital bed, his city uniform smeared with grease and blotches of blood. He said that he had tried to put out the fire with his hands, but that the woman had died.

A huge crowd gathered at the site of the explosion, and it quickly turned into political protests. Some people held signs saying, "Bush Go to Hell" and others were chanting, "Revenge against the Arabs!"

One woman, Esther Lapian, 53, started yelling at those calling for revenge, but said she was a little confused herself after the bombing.

"What do we do now?" she said. Referring to the American-backed summit meeting in Jordan last week, she said: "Tell me, post-Aqaba, this is, `Hello, how do I teach my kids to be open?' We actually sat around the Shabbat table talking about Aqaba. Is this good? Now I feel like a fool."

She added, "Every time there is a little hope we get socked between the teeth for trying!"

President Bush, who was in Chicago today, condemned the bus bombing "in the strongest possible terms," a spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters within minutes of the attack.

A leader of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, called the bombing "a message to all the Zionist criminals that they are not safe and that the Palestinian fighters are capable of reaching them everywhere," The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Zahar stopped short of taking direct responsibility, but an Internet site linked to the group said in a statement that the bombing had been carried out by the group's Izz-el-Deen al-Qassam military wing, news agencies reported.

Today's bombing followed threats by Palestinian militant groups on Tuesday to take revenge for two attacks earlier that day by Israeli forces in Gaza, one of them aimed at an important Hamas figure.

The leader, Dr. Abdel Azis Rantisi, an outspoken and radical figure, escaped with injuries, but two other people were killed when Israeli helicopters fired rockets at Dr. Rantisi's sport utility vehicle.

In a separate action on Tuesday, Israeli forces responded to the firing of rockets by Hamas militants at the Israeli town of Sederot, just across from the Gaza frontier. The Hamas rockets caused minor damage but no injuries. The retaliatory Israeli helicopter rocket attack left three Palestinians dead.

Hours before today's violence, Mr. Sharon shrugged off a sharp rebuke for Tuesday's attacks from President Bush, telling his cabinet, "We will make no concessions to terror," a government official told The Associated Press. "We made this clear to all the White House officials and to the Palestinians before the Aqaba summit."

Mr. Sharon has ordered aides to turn over intelligence data to United States officials that he says will back accusations that Dr. Rantisi had been coordinating attacks on Israelis.

Last week, Mr. Sharon, the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and Mr. Bush met in Aqaba in an effort to push the road map process. After the meeting, Hamas called off talks on a cease-fire, and Dr. Rantisi and other leaders of the group denounced Mr. Abbas, saying he was making too many concessions to the Israelis.

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