16 Killed as Suicide Bomber Blows Up in Bus in Capital

Hamas claims attack; 51 people still in hospital; Sharon: Israel will continue to 'pursue terrorists until they have been destroyed.'

Sixteen people were killed and more than 100 injured when a Palestinian suicide bomber, dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, blew himself up on a bus in central Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon.

51 people remained in hospital on Wednesday night. One woman suffered a very serious head wound; 9 people were seriously wounded, and 41 individuals were in light-to-moderate condition.

One of the victims of the bus bombing was named as Sergeant Tamar Ben-Eliahu, 19, from the town of Faran, in the Arava.

The bomber boarded Egged bus No. 14 around 5.30 P.M. and a short while later, as the bus drove down bustling Jaffa Road near the Davidka Square, detonated his bomb, wrecking the vehicle and killing many of its passengers. Dozens of passersby were also hurt and surrounding store windows were blown out.

Izzadin al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas, took responsibility for the attack, in announcements in the mosques of Gaza and on the Internet.

As rescue teams rushed to the scene, security forces blocked the exits from Jerusalem in an attempt to locate the bomber's assistants who had fled the scene. A police helicopter was employed to help in the search.

A preliminary investigation revealed that the bomber had boarded the bus at a stop a few meters from the site of the attack. He was dressed as an Haredi Jew. As the bus pulled off, the bomber, who was standing in the front of the vehicle, detonated his explosive belt. The bus careened forward and came to a halt outside the tall Clal building on Jaffa Road.

The bomber was identified as a resident of Hebron. Police are investigating whether he came to the city a few days before. He is believed to have been sent on his mission by a senior Hamas activist, Abdullah Kawasme, who is on Israel's wanted list.

At consultations between security heads on Wednesday night, it was decided that Israel would step up its campaign to put an end to Hamas terror. Leaders of the organization will be liquidated or jailed and special efforts will be made to find those responsible in Hebron, security sources said.

Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Diaspora affairs, stood next to the bus ruins shaking his head.

"My daughter rides that bus, so immediately you start checking where your family is and getting irritated because one doesn't know where the other is and none of the phones work," he said.

Yisrael Peretz, an IDF veteran who is an amputee, said he saw the bus from his porch on Jaffa Road and leaped down two floors to the street to help. "The driver was trying to extricate himself. I jumped from my porch and went to help him. Together with another person, we managed to get him out through the window. He was in shock and couldn't talk," Peretz said.

"A woman passerby climbed into the bus and began pouring milk that she was carrying onto the fire in an attempt to put it out. Later someone else found a fire extinguisher on the bus and started to put out the flames."

A few minutes after the explosion, Zaka rescue and recovery teams arrived at the scene and began administering first aid, as ambulances from all over the city rushed to the spot.

Many of the casualties were moved into the commercial center of the Clal building where they received first aid.

Jerusalem Police Commander Mickey Levy said yesterday evening that the terrorist had been carrying a huge bomb containing a great deal of metal fragments, causing massive injuries to the passengers. Doctors at the Abu Kabir forensic institute said it would be a prolonged process to identify the bodies because of the gravity of the injuries.

Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who came to the site, said he would put pressure on the government to speed up the building of the fence enveloping Jerusalem. The municipality set up emergency teams to deal with residents along the bus route, particularly in Beit Hakerem and Bak'a, the two neighborhoods which bus no. 14 serves.

Other teams were sent to Abu Kabir where relatives will have to identify the bodies.

The security forces on Wednesday had 58 warnings of terrorist attacks but there was no specific warning of an attack in central Jerusalem. The Shin Bet security services had warned of a possible large-scale attack by Hamas following the attempt on the life of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Hamas had ordered its activists to respond "as quickly as possible." However, it is believed that Wednesday's attack had actually been planned earlier, but was later presented as revenge for the Rantisi assassination attempt.

Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki estimated that it was unlikely an attack of this type could have been planned and executed in one day. "It is exactly at the time when talks are being held that organizations want to carry out bombings," he said.

In Hebron, masked Hamas gunmen took over a local TV station and ordered the announcer to read a note in which they stated that the suicide bomber was Abdel Muati Shaban. He was described as an 18-year-old high school pupil from Hebron. IDF soldiers later raided his home.

In Jerusalem's Davidka Square, dozens of right-wing activists gathered on Wednesday evening, shouting slogans against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They blocked Jaffa Road to traffic, and when Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, wearing a flak-jacket, arrived at the scene, they greeted him with boos.

About 100 right-wing activists entered the nearby Mahane Yehuda market, looking for Arab workers. They were pushed back by police. Right-wing demonstrators also gathered at Zion Square, trying to hit Arabs who were on their way home to East Jerusalem. Police dispersed them.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said after the attack that Israel would continue to pursue Palestinian militants to the fullest extent while making "every effort" on peacemaking with the Palestinians.

"The State of Israel will pursue to the fullest extent the Palestinian terrorist groups and their leaders," Sharon said. He added that Israel had a "deep commitment to make every effort to move forward with the diplomatic process which we hope will bring quiet and with God's help, peace."

Emergency phone numbers:Bikur Holim Hosptial: 1255123Shaare Zedek Hospital: 1255125Hadassah University Hospital, Mt. Scopus: 1255121Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem: 1255122Emergency hotline for new immigrants: 1255081010J'lem municipality emergency hotline: 1255083106