Up to 14 people were killed in two separate suicide bombs in Israel last night when Hamas fulfilled its threat to exact revenge for the assassination of militants.
In the first attack a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least six Israelis mainly soldiers at 6pm local time as they waited at a bus stop on a main highway near Tel Aviv.
In the second, nearly five hours hours later, another Palestinian bomber struck at the Café Hillel, a new and popular venue in the heart of Jerusalem's German Colony.
Hamas claimed responsibility for both bombings.
Israeli sources said the death toll in Jerusalem stood at six and could not confirm reports that those who died near Tel Aviv had risen to eight.
The Jerusalem bomber was stopped by a security guard as he approached the café and detonated the explosion blowing in the windows on the main street, killing six or seven bystanders and injuring dozens of others 40, by some estimates.
"I arrived just a few moments after the blast. I saw things that just can't be described, there are no words," said a witness. The security guard was almost certainly among the dead. One young woman was killed by a bolt from the nail-bomb as she walked along the pavement some 25 yards away from the cafe. Bolts and pellets smashed through metal and glass in cars across the street from the cafe.
The German Colony is a mildly bohemian district of the city with bars and cafés. The Café Hillel attracted clients who have become increasingly reluctant to visit the city centre since the beginning of the intifada three years ago.
As ambulances took the injured to hospitals, police and emergency workers cleared the area in front of the café.
The earlier suicide bomb near Tel Aviv, which left at least 14 wounded, was detonated at the bus stop used by soldiers going on leave from Tzrifin, one of the biggest military bases in the country, and by patients and families using the nearby Asaf Harofeh Hospital.
It blew human remains 20 feet upwards to the underside of the roof of the bus shelter beside the Route 44 highway, which runs besides the base. It was still spattered with blood last night as police continued packing up limbs. Ninety minutes later a leg still lay on the ground and a dismembered limb could be seen dangling from the bus shelter roof.
Niram Poskowitz, a 26-year-old soldier, said he had just finished training as a reservist and was being picked up by his girlfriend. He waved at two other women soldiers he knew to join them in the car, but only one made it as the bomb detonated. "There was smoke everywhere and it was a blur. But I think I may have seen the terrorist coming apart," he said.
Because of the proximity of the military base, soldiers immediately flooded the area to secure it for fear of a second explosion and troops ran to guard the footbridge over the highway between the bus shelter and the hospital grounds.
One of those already guarding the bridge, Eyal Schneider, 19, said he almost fainted from shock when he looked down at the scene moments after the blast. At the hospital last night he said: "I saw a leg lying on the ground, I saw a girl bleeding, I saw one woman soldier being resuscitated and I heard people screaming, 'help us'."
Two of the victims were killed instantly and two were dead on arrival at the hospital, only 500 metres from the carnage. Two more died shortly afterwards in intensive care.
Doctor Ido Katz, deputy director of the hospital, said that of the seriously injured victims one had bad head injuries, one facial injuries, one wounds to the chest and abdomen and one a tear in a major blood vessel.
The blasts are the first since the suicide bombing by Hamas on 19 August in Jerusalem, and the assassination by Israel of the Hamas leader Abu Shanab two days later.
Just after the killing of Abu Shanab, Hamas vowed vengeance and stepped up its threat after a bungled assassination attempt on the group's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in Gaza on Saturday.
Israel immediately heightened security throughout the country after that attack left Sheikh Yassin only slightly injured.
Earlier yesterday, the Israeli army killed another Hamas leader in Hebron, Ahmed Badar, thought to have been responsible for the suicide bomb in Jerusalem last month.