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Suicide attacker kills 16 on bus in Israel; Israel strike kills seven in Gaza

SHARE Suicide attacker kills 16 on bus in Israel; Israel strike kills seven in Gaza

JERUSALEM — A suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people and wounding nearly 70. An hour later, an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing two Hamas officials and at least five other people and wounding 30.

A visibly angry President Bush condemned the Jerusalem bombing and urged all nations to cut off financial aid to terror groups and "isolate those who hate so much that they are willing to kill."

The Jerusalem bombing came after Hamas vowed revenge for a failed Israeli attempt Tuesday to assassinate one of the Islamic militant group's senior political leaders. The increasing cycle of violence threatens to overwhelm a U.S.-backed peace plan launched by Bush and agreed to by the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers only a week ago.

The bus blast "is a message to all the Zionist criminals that they are not safe and that the Palestinian fighters are capable of reaching them everywhere," said Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. In Lebanon, the Hezbollah militia's Al-Manar TV reported that Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bombing.

The attack on bus No. 14 was carried out by a man dressed as a religious Jew, who stood up in the aisle and detonated explosives on his body, police said. The explosion went off during afternoon rush hour on Jaffa Street, Jerusalem's main thoroughfare, near Mahane Yehuda, an outdoor market that had been repeatedly targeted by Palestinian militants.

Police said 16 people were killed in the blast. Sixty-eight people were wounded, including eight who were in critical condition, paramedics said.

The blast blew out windows and tore a large hole into the left side of the red-and-white bus, peeling back its roof and blackening the inside. Passengers were hurled out by the force of the blast.

Hagid Stein, who works at a shoe store down the street, said she had just gotten off the bus. "I didn't know where to go, where to run," she said, shaking and crying. "I don't believe I'm so lucky."

Chen Knafo, a security guard at a nearby bank, said he saw a teenage girl blown out of the bus. "I took her aside and gave her first aid until a medic came," said Knafo, whose white shirt was soaked with blood.

Israel struck in Gaza about an hour later.

Witnesses said an Apache helicopter fired two missiles at a car stuck in a traffic jam in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood and then fired again after a group of people gathered around the vehicle.

Two bodies were taken from the car, one decapitated. The dead included members of Hamas' military wing, Tito Massoud, 35, and Soffil Abu Nahez, 29. Five other people also were killed, and 30 people were wounded, doctors said.

Jamil Hamdia cried as he carried his 11-year-old wounded cousin through Shifa Hospital and denounced Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, who has called for Palestinians to stop attacking Israelis.

"Where is Abu Mazen to come and see?" wailed Hamdia. "Are we cheap, to be killed like this? If that makes him a good leader I think his place is not among us."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the Jerusalem bombing as a "terrorist" attack and called for an end to all violence. "This empty circle must stop immediately," he said. Israel and the United States have tried to squeeze Arafat out of the peace process, accusing him of backing terrorism.

Abbas, who was installed as prime minister in April, joined Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Bush at a summit last week in Jordan to formally launch the "road map," a U.S.-backed plan for peace and Palestinian statehood by 2005. Since then, violence has grown bloodier.

Sharon said Israel was committed to carrying on with the peace process and to safeguarding its people.

"The state of Israel will continue to pursue until the end the terrorists and those that send them," he said. "I will take all measures to protect the citizens of Israel."

Sharon spokesman Ranaan Gissin said the breakdown in the peace effort was "definitely not by any fault of ours."

"We have gone beyond anything that the other side has done in order to show our goodwill," he told CNN. "But we don't see any real response on the other side of taking even the smallest steps to stop terrorist activity."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo called on the Americans to intervene to stop "this cycle of violence."

The Israelis "want to drown the road map in a sea of blood." he told CNN.

Bush upbraided Israel on Tuesday for its attack on Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Israel tried to kill Rantisi with a missile strike in Gaza, but he escaped with wounds, and two other Palestinians were killed. Bush and the Palestinians said Tuesday's attack made it harder for Abbas to persuade militants to cease fire.

After the bus bombing, Rantisi told The Associated Press from his hospital bed: "The Zionists will pay an expensive price for all of their crimes." The bus attack "took place at a time when the Zionists were on utmost alert, more evidence that our people will not be defeated," he said.

Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bomb attacks in Israel, killing more than 300 people.

Abbas opposes a crackdown on Hamas and other militias, warning it could spark civil war, and is trying to persuade them to stop attacks.

Those attempts continued Wednesday. Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, met with Arafat and Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, carrying a message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he is willing to host cease-fire talks between Palestinian leaders and militia groups. Suleiman renewed an earlier Egyptian proposal that Hamas and the other militants agree to a one-year truce. The armed groups have rebuffed the offer in the past.

AP correspondent Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.