Policeman suicide bomber kills ten on Jerusalem bus

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The Independent Online

At least 10 people were killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in central Jerusalem yesterday. More than 50 were injured in the explosion, at about 9am local time, 100 metres from the Israeli Prime Minister's official residence on the Gaza Road. The bomber was named as a Palestinian policeman from Bethlehem.

At least 10 people were killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in central Jerusalem yesterday. More than 50 were injured in the explosion, at about 9am local time, 100 metres from the Israeli Prime Minister's official residence on the Gaza Road. The bomber was named as a Palestinian policeman from Bethlehem.

All that was left of the back half of the bus was a twisted skeleton of metal. Rescue workers said the blast was so powerful that several passengers were blown through the roof. Even after they collected the remains of the dead and carried the bus away, the smell of blood still hung over the scene.

This was the 29th suicide bombing in Jerusalem since the start of the intifada, but no one was expecting this attack, after such a long lull inside Israel. The bomber may have intended to send a message by setting off his explosives so near to the Prime Minister's residence. Ariel Sharon was away but he would never have been in danger anyway, inside his well-shielded residence, set back from the street.

The passengers on the bus were not so lucky. Meshulam Perlman, who was setting up at his florist's shop as the bomb went off 50 metres away, found a woman's waist and legs severed from her upper body.

He said: "I saw a light from the bus, then I saw in slow motion the roof of the bus begin to blow off." Pieces of metal flew towards Mr Perlman, narrowly missing him. He found a severed hand that flew over his head and landed in the street behind him.

"The driver of the bus slumped forward in his seat and the bus stopped immediately," he said. "I went to help and I saw half the body of a woman. She was young, maybe 18, not more than 20. She was dressed like she was going to a party, in tights and fashionable black shoes.

"The passengers were in shock. It took a while, then they started to cry out, 'Help us! Help us!' The driver came round and he turned to look at the passengers. Then he fell forward again in shock.

"You could not help the people. They were trapped under the seats and they were calling out to you to help but you couldn't because of the seats."

It was not the first suicide bombing on this street. Everyone in Jerusalem remembers such a bombing in Café Moment in March 2002, a fashionable bar a short distance from the site of yesterday's attack. That one was even closer to the Prime Minister's residence. But it was not by chance that the suicide bomber chose this particular street, and Mr Sharon's official home may not have been the only reason. It is, after all, the Gaza Road, and the bomber left a note in which he said that the attack was to avenge the deaths of eight Palestinians - five militants and three civilians, reportedly including an 11-year-old boy - who were killed in an Israeli incursion into Gaza City the day before.

Like so many of the bombings, this was about revenge. It is a grimly familiar cycle of attack and counter-attack; suicide bombing and military incursion.

Islamic Jihad, four of whose militants were killed in the Gaza attack, vowed revenge, but yesterday's bombing was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group with links to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

The Palestinian Authority named the bomber as Ali Jaara, 24. He was a policeman in the one city from which Israeli troops have withdrawn and handed security control back to the Palestinian police: Bethlehem.

The timing overshadowed a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbollah yesterday. Israel did not call off the exchange, as some feared it might: the planes carrying prisoners from Israel and Lebanon were already on their way to meet in Germany.

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