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Terror attack kills 14 in Israel

Israeli investigators examine the scene of the Monday bombing.
Israeli investigators examine the scene of the Monday bombing.

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel a vehicle carrying explosives drove into the side of a bus which had stopped to pick up passengers in northern Israel (October 21)
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Fourteen people were killed when a suicide bomber exploded a vehicle next to a bus packed with passengers near Hadera in northern Israel. (October 21)
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KARKUR JUNCTION, Israel (CNN) -- A suicide bomber drove a vehicle loaded with explosives next to a bus packed with passengers just before Monday afternoon's rush hour in northern Israel and blew it up, killing 14 people, police said.

More than 50 people were wounded in the terror attack, said Col. Dani Kuffler of the Israeli Northern District Police.

One person was in critical condition and six others were in serious condition, one of them a 4-year-old girl, the consulate general of Israel in New York said in a statement.

The attack occurred midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa near the city of Hadera, said Avi Zohr, director general of the Israeli Red Cross.

Most of the casualties were aboard the bus, which was set afire by the blast at a bus stop in Karkur Junction, he said. (Full story)

CNN Correspondent Mike Hanna described the wreckage as "a scene of absolute devastation."

One witness told of seeing a soldier run from the bus, his clothes ablaze.

Authorities said a number of people in cars alongside the bus were among the casualties.

The Kia four-wheel drive vehicle, laden with approximately 250 pounds of explosives, drew alongside the bus and detonated about 4:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT), the statement said, citing Ya'akov Borovsky, commander of the Northern District Police.

The Kia exploded near the gas tank of the bus, presumably a move intended to inflict maximum damage, he said.

Police said they suspect the vehicle had been driven from the Jenin area on the West Bank. Authorities were searching the area for a second car, which may also contain a bomb.

Bus 841 had left the northern town of Kiryat Shemona headed for Tel Aviv, authorities said.

Israelis transport one of the victims wounded in the bombing.
Israelis transport one of the victims wounded in the bombing.

Soon after the blast, the Islamic Jihad organization claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after a curfew was lifted in the nearby town of Jenin on the West Bank and soon after Israeli tanks had fired into Gaza.

"This is a tragedy, and they do it with a pretext or without it," said Ephraim Sneh, Israel's public transportation minister.

After the explosion, the remains of the bus lay at a 90-degree angle to the highway, its sheet-metal exterior stripped away, revealing its blackened, smoking frame.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat condemned the attack. "We are condemning completely these terrorist activities against civilians, be they Israeli civilians or Palestinian civilians," he told reporters.

In Jericho, Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat also condemned the attack, and added: "We reiterate that the only way to break this vicious cycle of violence is to restart a meaningful peace process."

"We are getting mixed messages from the Palestinian Authority and their leader," said Ra'anan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "On one hand, [they are] calling publicly for peace, but on the other hand continuing to support ... those suicide bombers who conducted the attack today."

The White House also condemned the attack, but a senior Bush administration official urged Israel to exercise restraint.

"We respect the right for Israel to fight terrorism, but we also ask Israel to consider the consequences of its actions," the official said.

"It's another reminder of how it's so important for peace to be pursued and for terror to be stopped," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The road, which is near the region's main artery and the West Bank, has been the site of prior terrorist attacks. In June, 18 people died in a blast at Megiddo Junction.

--CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this story.

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