SDEH HEMED, Israel — A Palestinian suicide bomber on Wednesday detonated explosives packed with nails near Jewish seminary students waiting for a ride to school, killing himself and two teenagers and injuring four people.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the deadly blast, and said seven more bombers were ready to strike.
One of the students, Rafael Somer, 15, said the assailant approached three of his friends as they waited for their bus at a gas station about 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv near the boundary with the West Bank.
"He looked at them. Then the explosion went off. I was hurled backward. When I got up, I saw one of my friends without hands. Another friend was torn apart," said the lightly injured Somer, suppressing tears.
The boys killed in the blast were identified as Eliran Rosenberg, 16, and Naftali Landskoren, 14.
Bombs also were discovered Wednesday morning in open-air markets in two other towns, Netanya and Petah Tikvah. They were exploded safely.
In the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, meanwhile, a 9-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and three other children were injured when an Israeli shell they played with exploded, doctors said. All the injured were younger than 12.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is under growing pressure to respond harshly to the attacks, said restoring security remained his top priority.
"Even if (our) deterrence has been slightly eroded, it will be fully restored," Sharon said, without detailing what action he would take. He called an emergency session of his security Cabinet for Wednesday afternoon.
Sharon said security forces loyal to Yasser Arafat have been engaged in attacks on Israelis and that the Palestinian leader has done nothing to stop terrorism. "Unfortunately, he remains a leader of terror," Sharon said of Arafat.
Israel has said Arafat has released hundreds of Islamic militants from prison in recent months and that gunmen of the Tanzim militia affiliated with Arafat's Fatah movement have killed a number of Israelis in shooting attacks.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Amr denied the Palestinian Authority had any ties to the bombings. He called on Israel to resume peace talks and lift its travel restrictions on Palestinians, in effect for most of the past six months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Since late September, 440 people have been killed, including 359 Palestinians, 62 Israeli Jews and 19 others.
Wednesday's blast went off shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the gas station near the communal farm of Sdeh Hemed, close to the West Bank town of Qalqiliya.
Shortly before the explosion, a group of teenagers had been dropped off at the gas station to catch a ride in an armored bus to their seminary in Kedumim, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
The assailant, described as a man in his late 20s with black hair and a mustache, approached the youngsters. One boy, 12-year-old Hananel Twito, said he became suspicious because the stranger wore a black leather jacket zipped up to the neck, despite the hot weather. Suicide bombers often strap explosives to their bodies rather carrying them in bags, to avoid suspicion. The bomb was studded with nails, for greater deadliness.
Earlier this month, four people, including a Palestinian suicide bomber, were killed in a blast in Netanya. On Tuesday, Palestinian militants carried out back-to-back attacks in Jerusalem, including a bombing near a bus that killed the assailant and injured more than two dozen bystanders.
In a phone call to a Western news agency, Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday's deadly blast and Tuesday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
In a first response, the army sealed off the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, close to the scene of the explosion.
Daniella Weiss, mayor of the Kedumim settlement where the youngsters went to school, demanded the government accelerate Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and reoccupy areas controlled by Arafat's authority.
"Sharon is really stuck with an unsolvable dilemma. Restraint will be interpreted as weakness ... but an attack also means international isolation (and) the risk of escalation," wrote commentator Hemi Shalev in the Maariv daily.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, meanwhile, seven Palestinian-owned cars were torched in the Abu Sneineh neighborhood, apparently by Jewish settlers avenging the killing of a 10-month-old Israeli girl earlier this week by Palestinian gunfire. The army said snipers fired the shots at the Jewish enclave from the Abu Sneineh area.