Car bomb explodes near bus in Israel

By GREG MYRE

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A powerful car bomb exploded next to a bus in a northern Israeli town during evening rush hour today. Israeli television reported at least four people were killed and more than a dozen wounded.

The explosion in Hadera came hours after Israeli troops tracking a local Palestinian militia commander opened fire on two Palestinian cars near a military checkpoint in Gaza, killing at least four passengers, including the wanted man, the army said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bus attack, which followed a deadly Palestinian ambush of an Israeli school bus in the Gaza Strip two days earlier.

A cloud of smoke rose above the crowded downtown shopping area in Hadera, about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. The car that carried the bomb was a pile of twisted, smoking metal.

A witness told Israeli television that the bus had been coming out of the central station when it passed the parked car. The blast, which went off about 5:20 p.m., was so powerful that it forced the bus to slam into a nearby store. Several nearby stores caught fire and the explosion could be heard from several blocks away.

Israel has been on high alert for terror attacks by Palestinian militants since the recent violence began at the end of September. In the past, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups have carried out car bombings in hopes of wrecking Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

The shooting earlier today of Jamal Abdel Razek, a senior activist in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, had been thought likely to provoke new Palestinian retaliation.

Palestinian officials said the soldiers shot without provocation. Dozens of bullet holes punctured the windshield of one of the cars. Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian security chief in Gaza, called the killings a “barbaric assassination.”

The army said soldiers trying to arrest Abdel Razek opened fire when his car tried to crash through an Israeli roadblock close to the Jewish settlement of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip. Three other members of the Tanzim militia linked to Fatah were killed as well, and weapons were found in the car, the army said.

Palestinian officials said troops fired from tank-mounted machine guns at the two cars, and that several passengers, including two young daughters of one of the Fatah members, were still unaccounted for. Palestinian officials said at least one of the four killed was not a Fatah activist.

Abdel Razek is a cousin of Hisham Abdel Razek, a Palestinian Cabinet minister.

The army said Jamal Abdel Razek was responsible for a number of shooting and bombing attacks on Israeli targets in the southern Gaza Strip. today’s deaths brought to 258 the number of people killed in two months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. The vast majority were Palestinians.

“This morning’s operation is part of continuous army activities aimed at striking against those responsible for Israeli civilians and soldiers,” the army said.

Earlier this month, Israel assassinated a regional Tanzim commander in the West Bank whom it held responsible for shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. The killing triggered more Palestinian shootings.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Barak is willing to accept involvement of a U.S.-appointed commission to investigate the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. officials said after the meeting.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Barak agreed the commission “might be useful” in reducing violence. “This may give some confidence to both sides,” Bacon said, explaining Cohen’s comments to the Israeli leader. According to Bacon, “Barak said he was prepared to cooperate with the commission.”

Bacon’s statements indicated a softening of the Israeli position. On Tuesday, Israel informed the United States that such a commission was not suitable while the violence continues.

Today’s shootings came two days after Israel rocketed Palestinian security offices in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the deadly Palestinian attack on the school bus. The bus explosion near the Kfar Darom settlement in Gaza killed two adults and wounded nine passengers, including five children.

In response to the rocketing, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouny, and Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu-Ragheb said his country’s new ambassador to Israel would not present his credentials “until Israel ends its attacks.” Bassiouny returned to Egypt today.

Before the rocket attack, Egypt and Jordan had resisted pressure to suspend relations with Israel, despite resolutions passed by two summit conferences recommending a break in ties. Several smaller Arab countries severed lower-level relations in the past two months.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said his country would continue to be active in Middle East diplomacy, but could not endorse Israel’s attacks against the Palestinians. Palestinians praised the Egyptians after the decision to recall Bassiouny.

Also today, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled into the Gaza Strip, cutting it in two and preventing Palestinian traffic between its northern and southern parts.

The military buildup came in response to the fatal shooting Tuesday of an 18-year-old Israeli from a Gaza settlement by a Palestinian sniper.

Israeli army bulldozers cleared Palestinian orchards and buildings away from a Gaza intersection near the isolated Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, where the Israeli was shot, following a pattern of securing Israeli-held areas of the violence-shattered territory by flattening large swaths of land.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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