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Twin Suicide Bombings Rock Israeli City, 17 Killed - 2004-08-31

The southern Israeli city of Beersheva has been hit by suicide bombings on two city buses. Emergency services report there are 17 dead and more than 90 injured in the blasts.

Police report that the blasts occurred almost simultaneously when suicide bombers blew themselves up on two buses some 100 meters apart in the center of Beersheva.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, in leaflets distributed in the West Bank city of Hebron. Beersheva is a town of some 150,000 people. It is located in the Negev desert about 40 kilometers east of the Gaza Strip and far from the usual scenes of Palestinian militant attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israel Radio that it is the government's policy to fight terror and he would do just that. Mr. Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said Israel would take whatever steps necessary to protect its citizens.

It has been more than five months since the last suicide attack inside Israel. That was on March 14 when two Palestinians blew themselves up in the Israeli port of Ashdod, killing 10 people. That attack led to an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip that killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israel says the lull in terror attacks is the result of continuing security operations and is not due to a lack of trying by Palestinian militants. Israeli security officials say they thwart dozens of attacks nearly every day.

Israel also says its controversial security barrier being built in and around the West Bank has drastically cut down on the number of successful terror attacks.

Early Tuesday morning, Israeli troops caught and disarmed a man wearing an explosive belt as he tried to pass through the Erez checkpoint from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel.