WASHINGTON — Calling on all nations to halt funding of terrorist groups, President Bush Wednesday condemned a Palestinian suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus that killed 16 passengers and prompted swift retaliation from the Israeli military.
White House officials worked to salvage the Middle East peace process that was restarted a week ago but now appears in serious jeopardy. John Wolf, a State Department official tapped by Bush to monitor the peace plan, was expected to arrive in the region as soon as Friday.
Hamas took responsibility for the attack, which was followed by two separate Israeli helicopter strikes on targets in Gaza Strip that claimed the lives of nine Palestinians, including several Hamas members. The State Department has placed Hamas on its list of terrorist groups.
The bus bombing was carried out by a man dressed as an observant Jew, the Associated Press reported. He was identified by the Palestinians as Abdel Madi Shabneh, an 18-year-old high school student from the West Bank town of Hebron.
The No. 14 Bus was traveling during early rush hour along Jaffa Street, a busy artery often targeted by bombers. The blast blew out windows and hurled passengers out of the bus. In addition to the deaths of the 16 passengers and the bomber, police said 70 people were wounded, eight of them critically.
Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Jerusalem affairs, stood next to the wreckage of the bus, shaking his head. "My daughter rides that bus," he said, "so immediately you start checking where your family is and getting irritated because one doesn't know where the other is and none of the phones work."
An hour after the bombing, Israeli helicopter gunships fired two missiles at a small Fiat stuck in a traffic jam in a crowded Gaza neighborhood, killing two members of Hamas' military wing. Five other people were killed and 30 were wounded.
A few hours later, shortly after midnight, an Israeli helicopter gunship killed two low-level Hamas militants in another attack in Gaza City.
The violence forced Bush for the second day in a row to publicly address obstacles to the so-called road map to peace, which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had pledged to observe last week at a meeting in Aqaba, Jordan.
"It is clear there are people in the Middle East who hate peace," said Bush, who addressed the issue on a trip to Chicago.
Although Bush failed to mention any leader or country by name, he strongly suggested that the attacks were made possible by funding of terror groups from Arab countries.
"I strongly urge all of you to fight off terror," Bush said, "to cut off money to organizations such as Hamas, to isolate those who hate so much that they're willing to kill to stop peace from going forward."
Halting the flow of money to such groups is a key tenet of the initial phase of the road map, which a number of Arab leaders pledged to fulfill when they met with Bush in Egypt the day before the Aqaba conference.
The president refrained from criticizing Abbas, whom he suggested was being undercut by groups such as Hamas, which cut off talks with the Palestinian prime minister earlier this week.
In the past, the White House has blamed Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for failing to prevent such attacks. On Wednesday Arafat went on television to condemn the bus bombing and urge Hamas and other groups to cease fire.
But on Tuesday the president issued a rare rebuke of Israel after it launched two air strikes that killed five Palestinians and wounded Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a co-founder of Hamas.