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Suicide Bomber Kills 20, Wounds Dozens in Jerusalem - 2003-08-19

A suspected Palestinian suicide bomber has blown himself up on a packed bus in Jerusalem, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more. The bomber also died in the blast.

The explosion ripped through the bus Tuesday night, leaving bodies and debris strewn across the sidewalk.

Most of the passengers were observant Jews who were returning from prayers at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site in Jerusalem's Old City.

The windows of another bus traveling nearby were blown out by the blast.

Ambulance and rescue workers rushed to the scene as police sealed off the area. Survivors, many with blood-smeared faces, were led away from the carnage by paramedics.

Israeli officials suspect that one of the militant Islamic groups that have frequently carried out such attacks is behind the latest bombing.

One such group, the Islamic Jihad, has been vowing to carry out a revenge attack following the killing one of their senior activists last week by Israeli forces.

The blast came as Israeli and Palestinian officials were due to renew discussions on the handover of four West Bank cities to Palestinian control. Shortly after the explosion, Israel announced that it was suspending the transfer until it could evaluate the security situation.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had warned that the transfer would be called off if there were more Palestinian terror attacks.

The explosion came as Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with the leaders of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in a bid to persuade them to halt their attacks.

Mr. Sharon is urging Mr. Abbas to disarm extremist groups but the Palestinian prime minister says he prefers dialogue over confrontation.

Armed Palestinian groups declared a unilateral three-month truce on June 29 but in recent days have warned that they would continue taking revenge for the killing of their activists by Israeli forces.