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Suicide Bombing Rocks Downtown Tel Aviv - 2002-09-19

At least six people have been killed in a suicide bus bombing in Tel Aviv and 60 more wounded.

The shrapnel-studded bomb went off on Allenby Street, one of Tel Aviv's busiest thoroughfares. Witnesses say passengers on the bus leapt from windows, as the bus rolled out of control down the street, with the blackened body of the driver, slumped at the wheel.

Jacob Heyn, the 87-year-old owner of a bookstore on Allenby Street, was standing only meters away from the blast. Despite that he seemed surprisingly calm.

"I was standing in front of the bookstore, when the explosion occurred," he recalled. "I saw the bus going farther away and a man lying on the floor and I saw the smoke coming out of the bus, and I went inside to see what happened inside the store. The workers, my family is working there."

An explosives expert for the British Army during World War II, Mr. Heyn told VOA that the blast did not match the horrors he had seen as a young man on the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. He dismissed any notion that Palestinian suicide bombers have turned Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities into war zones.

"It is not a war," he said. "To compare it with what happened in a war, it is very mild. I saw places, where they destroyed the town from the beginning to the end, during the war."

This is not the first bomb that has come close to Mr. Heyn and his bookstore. Leaning casually on a barricade police erected around his shop, he pointed to a cafe bombed two years ago and another building, 200 meters away, that was struck by a blast a year earlier.

He says he expects there will be other bombs.

"We have to get used to it, as long as we don't have a political solution, an arrangement to stop the conflict, it will happen again and again," he said.

Unlike Mr. Heyn, Elka Koriat was shocked by the bombing. She runs a bakery on Allenby Street and saw the bus explode.

"I was here. I saw the explosion," she said. "There was fire from the bus, there was moving, crying and a few minutes came the ambulances. Some people came to the store and I gave them help."

Like many Israelis, her hopes for peace had been kindled by a lull in suicide bombings for more than a month. But after Thursday's explosion, she believes the danger has again returned.

Ezra Friedman, who works in a pizzeria in the area, was also shaken by his close encounter with terrorism. "I was across the street," he said. "I heard the blast and I immediately knew it was a terrorist attack. I saw people jumping out of the bus."

The militant group Hamas has claimed responsibility for the bombing. A Hamas spokesman said Thursday he expects to see more such operations because of what he called the daily brutal crimes [of the Israeli army] against our people.

Though the Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing, Israel said it held the Palestinian Authority ultimately responsible because it failed to stop this and other attacks by Palestinian militant groups.