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Jerusalem blast kills 7; 4 Americans among dead

Hamas says attack in retaliation for Israeli strike in Gaza

A wounded woman is evacuated Wednesday from the scene of an explosion at Hebrew University.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An explosion Wednesday at Jerusalem's Hebrew University killed at least seven people, including four Americans, hospital officials and U.S. officials said.

Police called the blast a terrorist act, and Palestinian sources in Gaza said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas was claiming responsibility for the explosion. The blast apparently came from a bomb planted at the scene.

U.S. Embassy officials identified two of the American victims as Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, from Massachusetts, and Benjamin Blutstein of Pennsylvania. The other two U.S. victims were not named.

Officials said the deaths raise to 14 the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks in the region since the current intifada began in September of 2000.

Hamas said the bomb was in retaliation for last week's Israeli attack in Gaza that killed the commander of Hamas' military wing and 14 others, including nine children.

The U.S. State Department has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, previously has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack.

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"We have to stop the cycle of violence through a meaningful peace process," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

Police said the blast was most likely a bomb planted in a handbag left in the crowded cafeteria. Officials said they were not certain how the bomb was detonated.

Rescue officials said at least six people died at the scene. Another victim died after being taken to nearby Hadassah Hospital. At least 80 people were believed to have been wounded, a number of them with critical injuries.

The blast went off just before 2 p.m. when the cafeteria was packed with lunchtime diners. Broken tiles hung from the ceiling, and bits of lunches, broken glasses and twisted utensils were scattered on the floor.

The cafeteria was said to be a favorite spot for both Jews and Arabs. More than 5,000 Arab students attend the university.

No classes were taking place, but students were taking exams at the university.

Alastair Goldrein, a student from Liverpool, England, said the cafeteria was a gathering place for students of all types of backgrounds.

"I was on my way to lunch. There was a huge, huge explosion. Everything shook and then there was this deathly silence," said Goldrein, 19, who has been taking Jewish studies at the university. "I ran in, there were people lying around wailing, covered in blood. Scenes that are indescribable, clothes and flesh torn apart."

Another student said there were about 50 people in the cafeteria at the time the bomb went off.

A third student said, "I heard the bomb and I ran out. Everybody came running out. I ran to the cafeteria. It was a mess, blood everywhere.

A student cries near the scene of Wednesday's explosion.  

"I thought, maybe there was someone I knew. ... I don't know if there is security all the time in the cafeteria, but usually you feel like there is security."

The United States denounced Wednesday's bombing.

"This is a horrific act of terror," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Campuses around the world are places of learning and should be places of peace. This terrorist attack underscores the need for the Palestinian people, the Palestinian leadership, to take action to halt terrorism so that peace has a chance in the Middle East.

"The president is still determined to focus on finding ways to achieve peace in the Middle East, but he condemns this attack in the strongest terms."

The explosion follows a suicide bombing Tuesday that injured seven Israelis in central Jerusalem.


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