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Palestinian bus attack claims eighth victim

Suspected militant dies in gunbattle

Israeli authorities sealed off a bus that was ambushed Tuesday near the Jewish settlement of Emanuel in the West Bank.
Israeli authorities sealed off a bus that was ambushed Tuesday near the Jewish settlement of Emanuel in the West Bank.  

EMANUEL, West Bank (CNN) -- A suspected Palestinian militant was killed early Wednesday near the Jewish West Bank settlement of Emanuel in a gunbattle between Israeli soldiers and men believed to be connected with an attack on a bus a day earlier that killed at least seven people, Israeli sources said.

According to the sources, the shootout was with the attackers or men associated with them.

In what appeared to be a well-planned attack, a roadside bomb was detonated Tuesday as the bulletproof bus drove up a hill toward Emanuel, near Nablus.

Palestinian gunmen dressed as Israeli soldiers then ambushed the bus, killing at least seven people and wounding 15 others -- seven of them seriously, Israeli authorities said.

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Israel Defense Forces launched a massive operation using soldiers and helicopters to hunt down the perpetrators in hills near the Israeli settlement.

The bus attack was a blow to international peacemaking efforts, coming as representatives of the so-called "Madrid quartet" -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- meet in New York to discuss the Middle East crisis. Foreign ministers from Egypt and Jordan are also expected to be there. (Full story)

The three Palestinian gunmen came down the hill and opened fire as people were getting off the bus, authorities. The IDF said the three were wearing Israeli army uniforms.

Those killed had left the bus after the initial explosion. Police later found three unexploded grenades on the bus. Police said the casualty toll would have been higher if the grenades had gone off in the vehicle.

The bus was heavily damaged, and cars also were hit. Channel Two television said that the injured also included people in a car driving near the bus.

Claims of responsibility have been made by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah party; the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and Hamas, a Palestinian fundamentalist organization. All three groups have been designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

CNN has not been able to confirm any of the claims.

David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that the attack is "further proof that the Palestinian Authority considers terrorism a primary mode of operation."

The Palestinian Authority released a statement condemning all attacks on civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. But the authority said the only way to end bloodshed is for the Israelis to cease the occupation and settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza and return to the peace table. No reference was made to Tuesday's attack.

The ambushed bus, No. 189 from the Dan company, had departed from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, around 2.15 p.m. local time, Ha'aretz said.

A December 12 attack on a bus in the same area killed 10 Israelis.

The White House condemned the latest bloodshed, saying it "underscores the importance of focusing on peace and working with leaders in the Palestinian Authority dedicated to peace."

Press secretary Ari Fleischer noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell was in talks this week with other foreign ministers about the Mideast and that President Bush's view remained unchanged that Arafat must be replaced as the Palestinian leader.

"He believes the Palestinian people, given a fair choice, want a future of freedom," Fleischer said.

In a statement through a spokesman, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he was "appalled" by the attack.

"This terrorist attack was clearly designed to disrupt the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict," Annan said. "The perpetrators cannot be allowed to succeed in their sinister purpose."

The previous deadly attack on Israeli civilians occurred last month when a gunman killed five people in the Jewish settlement of Itamar near Nablus in the northern West Bank. Since January, more than 230 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks on civilian targets.

In recent weeks, responding to the escalation in terrorist attacks, Israel reoccupied some Palestinian regions for security purposes.

-- CNN's Mike Hanna and John Vause contributed to this report.




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