Twenty-three killed in Middle East 'tit for tat' violence

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in central Jerusalem today, killing at least 16 people and wounding 70 a day after Hamas threatened bloody revenge for an Israeli attack on one of its leaders. Passengers were hurled from the bus by the force of the blast.

Less than an hour later, Israeli attack helicopters fired missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing at least seven Palestinians, including two Hamas militants and five bystanders. Witnesses said several missiles were fired as bystanders were trying to pull the passengers out of the car.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas co–founder and target of Israel's failed attack on yesterday, stopped short of claiming direct responsibility for the Jerusalem bombing. Speaking to The Associated Press from his hospital bed, he said that "the Zionists will pay an expensive price for all of their crimes."

He said the bus bombing "took place at a time when the Zionists were on utmost alert, more evidence that our people will not be defeated."

Today's explosion went off during evening rush hour on city bus No. 14 on Jaffa Street, Jerusalem's main thoroughfare, near the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market which has repeatedly been targeted by Palestinian militants in the past.

The blast blew out windows and tore a large hole into the left side of the red–and–white bus. The bus had just left Jerusalem's nearby central bus station when the explosion went off.

Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy said the explosion went off shortly after the bus left the nearby central bus station. "We are talking about a big explosive device that was set off by a suicide bomber," he said.

Seventy people were wounded, including eight who were in critical condition, paramedics said.

Less than an hour after the Jerusalem bombing, Israeli helicopter gunships fired two missiles at a car driving in Gaza City. The vehicle was stuck in a traffic jam, said shopkeeper Massoud Ramadan, aged 65, who witnessed the strike.

"When we started trying to evacuate them (the passenger) from the car, another missile attack took place while a huge number of people were gathering trying to help the wounded," said Ramadan, who was hurt by shrapnel.

Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, said seven people were killed in the missile strike. Among the dead were two Hamas activists, Tito Massoud, aged 35, and Sohil Abu Nahel, 29.

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