Suicide bomber kills eight in Jerusalem bus attack

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A Palestinian suicide bomber killed eight Israelis and wounded about 60 when he blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem during the morning rush hour yesterday.

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed eight Israelis and wounded about 60 when he blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem during the morning rush hour yesterday.

The dead included two 18-year-old pupils on their way to school in the city centre. Nine of the wounded were children. It was the 29th bombing in Jerusalem since the Palestinians launched the intifada three and a half years ago, and took place in the affluent German Colony suburb.

The attack came 24 hours before the International Court in The Hague was due to begin hearings into the legality of Israel's West Bank security fence.

Jad Ishaq, a leading West Bank campaigner against the fence, denounced the bombing as an own-goal for the Palestinians. "The timing is wrong and it damages the Palestinian interest," he said. "It's time we examined ourselves and stopped these attacks."

He said only 300 protesters turned out for a demonstration yesterday instead of the expected 5,000. "They couldn't get to the wall because of the bombing. Most of us thought it was a big mistake."

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the bomber as Mohammed Zeoul, 23, from the village of Hussan near Bethlehem. He left a son aged 18 months and a pregnant wife. Al-Aqsa released a farewell video showing the bomber seated in front of the group's flag. In a statement it called the barrier "a Nazi wall which will not stop us attacking".

But the group later denied involvement in the bombing, which it said only served Israeli propaganda interests. It did not explain why it had issued the statement or the video.

Israelis see the Fatah involvement as evidence either that the Palestinian leadership is behind the bombings, or that it has lost control of the al-Aqsa militants.

The paramilitary border police raided Hussan after the attack and arrested the bomber's parents and three brothers. Other relatives emptied the family's two-storey house. They said they expected the army to demolish it, a standard punishment for such attacks. Troops also moved into Bethlehem.

Yasser Ashqar, the bomber's cousin, said: "Like many Palestinian young men, Mohammed was frustrated and angry. He had been without work since the beginning of the intifada. The Israelis refused to give him a permit. He was wounded in the abdomen two years ago while throwing stones at soldiers."

Joan Kedem, a British-born Israeli grandmother, had just got off another bus when she heard the explosion. "I was about 50 yards away," she said. "I turned around. There was an unearthly silence, then an enormous cloud of smoke. I saw body parts flying across the street."

Reuven Pool, a volunteer paramedic who rushed to the scene, said: "I found one person under a seat. He was screaming with pain. One of his legs had been blown off. We managed to stabilise him and get him to an ambulance."

Israel seized on the attack as a vindication of the fence. Tommy Lapid, the Justice Minister, said: "This painful attack is the answer to the world gathering in The Hague.

"It is not the state of Israel that is on trial, but the Palestinian terrorism."

Israel yesterday started dismantling a five-mile length of the barrier encircling the Palestinian town of Baqa el-Sharqiya near the pre-1967 border.