Car bomb kills 17 on bus in Israel
MEGIDDO JUNCTION, Israel (CNN) -- An explosives-laden car pulled alongside a bus and blew up Wednesday morning in Northern Israel, killing at least 17 passengers -- including 13 Israeli soldiers -- according to Israeli police and emergency medical personnel.
Hours later, Israeli military sources said Israeli tanks had entered the town of Jenin in what was being described as a "pinpoint operation." Palestinian security sources said seven tanks entered the town from two directions.
The militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, according to a report on a Hezbollah television station in Lebanon. Israeli officials, however, were quick to blame the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Yasser Arafat. ( Full story )
Arafat ordered the arrest of Islamic Jihad members responsible for the attack, Palestinian security sources said. The orders were issued after Arafat met with the Palestinian Authority Security Council at his headquarters in Ramallah.
The blast took place after two days of meetings between CIA Director George Tenet and Palestinian and Israeli officials -- and on the 35th anniversary of the beginning of the 1967 Mideast War, in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
At least 36 people were wounded in Wednesday's attack, officials said. The magnitude of the blast and the carnage it caused made it difficult for workers to obtain an accurate count of casualties.
Several soldiers were on the bus, heading back to their posts in northern Israel, police said. The bus was Egged bus 830 en route from Tel Aviv to Tiberias. The driver, Miki Harel, survived. It was the fourth terror attack he had survived, an Egged spokesman said.
The blast took place about 7:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m. EDT), on a road near Megiddo in Galilee, just north of the West Bank.
Witnesses say passengers burned alive
In what a police spokesman called a "very large explosion," the explosives-filled car pulled alongside the bus as it traveled down the highway before blowing up.
Israeli TV showed firefighters dousing the burned-out wreckage of the bus along the side of the highway. What appeared to be the charred remnants of the car smoldered a short distance away.
"For the last couple of years I've been involved in these kind of things. I've never seen a bus burned as badly as this," said Shmul Shimshoni of the Burial Society.
"And a lot of the body parts were actually burned beyond being able to tell that they were actually body parts without very, very close examination."
The bus flipped over twice and some passengers were hurled onto the asphalt, while others, including a man and woman embracing in their final moments, died trapped in the burning vehicle, The Associated Press reported.
"I felt the bus leap and then turn over," driver Harel told the AP. "I saw soldiers thrown around the front of the bus."
Ambulances rushed to and from the scene. Local hospitals reported three of the wounded in critical condition and 10 others in serious condition.
The car bomb was the deadliest terror attack on Israel since the end, in early May, of "Operation Defensive Shield." The Israeli military campaign in the West Bank was aimed at dismantling what Israel termed the "terrorist infrastructure" in the area.
Operation Defensive Shield began after a series of suicide bombings left scores of Israelis dead and maimed.
U.S. President Bush condemned in the "strongest terms" what he called "the brutal terror" attack, saying the suicide bombing "underscores the importance of the Palestinian Authority developing a security force that can be relied on to stop and prevent attacks." (Full story)
Sharon, who is scheduled to meet next week with Bush in Washington, said he would delay his departure for one day until Saturday, his office said Wednesday. Before the bombing, Sharon had been scheduled to leave Friday, stopping off in New York before going to Washington. The New York stop has been canceled, his office said.
-- CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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