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Suicide Bomber on Israeli Bus Kills 7 - 2004-02-22


A suspected Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a crowded bus in Jerusalem Sunday morning, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens. The militant Palestinian group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for the attack. Sonja Pace reports from Jerusalem.

With an all-too-familiar sound, ambulances rush to the scene Sunday morning, the beginning of the work week. It was the height of the rush hour and bus number 14 was making its way up Emek Refaim street towards central Jerusalem when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives. The bus had stopped at a red light just opposite a gasoline station.

Across the intersection Nir Barkat sat waiting for the light to change. He saw the bus explode.

"I immediately realized what's going on, and I told the woman next to me to dial 101 and ran to the bus. It's a terrible scene. I had to stomp on pieces of bodies," the said. A reporter observed that his hands are covered with blood. "Yeah, my hands, my feet. Look at my shoes. I had to step on, on - I don't want to say what I stepped on to help people get out of the car."

The blast sent shattered glass and body parts flying across the intersection.

Police and emergency personnel moved in quickly to cordon off the area. But a half hour after the blast there were still one or two bodies on the sidewalk; they'd been covered in white sheets.

On January 29, a suicide bus bombing not far from here killed 11 people. Palestinian militants had warned of further attacks in retaliation for an Israeli raid into the Gaza Strip that left 15 Palestinians dead over a week ago.

Palestinian officials condemned the bombing and urged the United States to step up efforts to revive peace negotiations.

Sunday's bombing comes just a day before the International Court of Justice at The Hague is to hear arguments about the legality of the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank.

Nir Barkat, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, says it should be clear to everyone that the barrier is necessary to try to prevent bombings such as this one.

"Life is more important than anything else," he said, "and our right to defend ourselves is more important than anything else. Excuse me, we just cannot see scenes like this. We have to stop it."

Israel says the barrier is for security only. Critics say it encloses Palestinian towns and villages in virtual prisons and Palestinians argue Israel is creating de facto borders and grabbing as much Palestinian land as possible in the process.

Israelis argue the barrier has helped cut down on the number of attacks such as this one. Critics say the barrier will never be able to stop such attacks.