A suicide bomber has detonated explosives in central Jerusalem, killing himself and lightly injuring several others.

The blast went off on a busy street during rush hour near a downtown hotel close to Jerusalem's walled Old City.

The assailant detonated explosives packed with nails and bolts strapped to his body. He was crossing the street when the blast occurred.

Blood splattered the wall of the hotel. Body parts and clothing were scattered across the road.

Israeli police say the man probably intended to blow himself up in a crowded place in central Jerusalem, but the bomb exploded prematurely.

Israeli media reported that two cabinet ministers were in the hotel and may have been the intended targets of the explosion.

Last October Palestinian militants assassinated an Israeli cabinet minister at another Jerusalem hotel.

The blast followed two days of intense Israeli air strikes on Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday in Gaza, Israeli warplanes bombed a building near a school, killing a security officer and a student. More than 100 people, including many children, were injured.

Israeli helicopter gun ships fired missiles near the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The strikes were Israel's response to earlier suicide attacks by Islamic militants in Jerusalem and the port city of Haifa that killed 25 people.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's foreign policy advisor, Danny Ayalon, says the military operation is designed to put pressure on Mr. Arafat to arrest militants responsible for attacks on Israelis. "We have given the Palestinians and Chairman Arafat all the chances in the world to do what he was supposed to do, what he committed himself to do, but to no avail. On the contrary, in a very cynical way, they kept on going with this terror campaign, trying to on one hand to exert some international pressure and on the other hand go on with the terror". Mr. Ayalon continues "This can no longer be. He has to make a decision whether he is still a head of a terror organization or he wants to go in a different route." Palestinians say they have rounded up more than 100 militants in recent days, but that Israel's bombing campaign is making it difficult to make more arrests.

Israeli troops continue to surround Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and are maintaining a tight closure in the territories.