Carnage returns to the streets of Tel Aviv

Bomber detonates hidden explosives as he boards bus, killing five and injuring more than 40
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The Independent Online

A volunteer was searching through the wreckage of shop fronts of Allenby Street yesterday, looking for survivors from bus number 4.

A volunteer was searching through the wreckage of shop fronts of Allenby Street yesterday, looking for survivors from bus number 4.

Flowers lay amid broken glass all over the pavement. Workmen were removing the window of the Piano House music store, which had been punched through with large shrapnel holes. Outside the bookshop next door, a shop assistant sat on the steps and smoked, his hands shaky, with the camera crews looking on.

Every few minutes, another bus number 4 came by. At the stop where, just hours before, a suicide bomber had got on the bus, detonated his hidden explosives and torn the bus apart, residents were queuing and getting on the bus to go home.

Five people died in the attack, and more than 40 were injured, including two British students, one of whom was in critical condition last night.

Elad Zifrin was watching when the bomb went off. At his father's café, just a few metres up the road, the 21-year-old was standing outside, encouraging passers-by to come in. It was just before 1pm, the busiest time of the day on one of Tel Aviv's busiest shopping streets. "Just at that moment, I glanced at the street, at the spot where the bus was pulling away from the stop," he said. "First, I heard an explosion. It took three seconds but it seemed like a lifetime. First I heard it, then I saw the bus filling with black smoke, then it was exploding out from the bus. I saw the bus still coming towards me but without the driver."

What happened to the driver, we asked. "He was still sitting in his seat, but his body wasn't in one piece," the young man said. "I saw people knocking at windows, trying to get out." Another witness told us she saw people crawling through broken windows. "There were a lot of pieces of body near the restaurant," Mr Zifrin continued. "Some young women came into the restaurant. They had blood on their faces, they locked themselves in the toilet and wouldn't come out, they were really frightened. They were screaming."

This was not the first bomb to go off here. Allenby Street has been the target of several. A year and a half ago, Mr Zifrin's restaurant was blown apart by a bomb left behind in a bag. He showed us a photograph of the wreckage then. "It looked almost exactly the same today," he said.

He was shaken. His conversation veered from one bombing to the other. Eighteen months ago, nobody was injured because his parents noticed a bag had been lying uncollected for hours so they evacuated the restaurant.

Before the police could arrive, the bomb went off. Now the Zifrins have jokingly renamed the restaurant "The Bomb Place"'.

It is part of the same defiance that had commuters queuing yesterday evening at the bus stop where the bombing took place. "I came to work on bus number 4 today," said Mr Zifrin. "I got off at that same stop, where the bomber got on." Would he be taking the bus home? "No, not for a few days."

There were reported claims of responsibility by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main Islamist Palestinian groups.

For six weeks, there has not been a serious militant attack in Israel. That ended on Wednesday, with a shooting and a suicide bombing in which an Israeli policeman died. And now the Allenby Street bus attack.

Hours before Wednesday's attacks, the Palestinian Authority offered a partial ceasefire. Israel rejected it because it was not going to apply to soldiers or civilians inside the occupied territories.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered more reluctant to agree to a ceasefire than other militant groups. Whether the violence has returned this week because the ceasefire calls were rejected is not clear, but returned the violence has. Last night, Israeli tanks were advancing on Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, firing as they went.

Mr Zifrin said: "I don't think there can ever be peace. Not with this Palestinian government. And not with ...'' He hesitated. What he said next seemed hard to say, "... with our way of thinking. We need to compromise to have peace."

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