Twenty hurt as bomb rips through Jerusalem bus

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GAZA CITY/ JERUSALEM: Twenty people were wounded when an explosion ripped through a bus outside Jerusalem’s central bus station on Wednesday, medical officials told AFP, saying three were seriously hurt.

Israeli officials and police confirmed the explosion was caused by a bomb, which was apparently left next to a public phone by a bus stop.

"The bomb was inside a bag which was left at the bus stop," Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters at the scene.

The blast, which shook buildings hundreds of metres away shortly after 3:00 pm (1300 GMT), hit the 174 bus as it stopped to pick up passengers at a stop between the central bus station and the ICC conference centre, both of which lie at the western entrance to Jerusalem.

"There are 20 people injured, three of whom are in serious condition, while another four or five are moderately injured," said emergency services spokesman Zaki Heller, saying that noone was killed in the blast.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw people lying on the floor covered in blood, and many cars and buses with shattered windows.

Medical officials said many of the wounded were suffering from shrapnel wounds.

Meanwhile, two Grad rockets slammed into the Israeli city of Beersheva on Wednesday, as Gaza Insurgent vowed to strike deep into the Jewish state after raids killed eight Gazans.

The first rocket slammed into the centre of Beersheva around dawn, moderately injuring one man, while the second, which was fired several hours later, landed harmlessly in an open area, police said.

The army said seven mortars had also landed in Israel.

Beersheba is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza, and much further away than the Israeli cities regularly targeted by Palestinian militants.

Another Grad rocket hit the outskirts of the city on February 23, but this was the first time since the 2008-9 war that such a projectile had landed in the middle of the city, home to 186,000 people.

The Al Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, claimed responsibility for both attacks as well as for the overnight firing of another Grad rocket towards the southern port city of Ashdod.

A spokesman for the group vowed that the Insurgent would fire rockets at cities deep inside Israel as it entered "a new phase" of resistance.

Grad rockets have a longer range than mortars or the crude, homemade Qassams normally used by Gaza militants, and can travel up to 30 miles (50 kilometers).

During the morning, the Israeli air force targeted Insurgent on the eastern side of Gaza City, but no-one was injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

Over the last week, there has been a significant increase in Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory air strikes, which have ramped up tensions between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers and raised fears of a large-scale Israeli military incursion.

Wednesday’s attacks came a day after Israel mounted a series of raids on targets in the eastern sector of Gaza City, killing eight people.

All eight, two of whom were minors, were to be buried following a collective funeral in central Gaza City at midday, with officials from Gaza’s Hamas leadership declaring a day of mourning.

Four of the dead were Insurgent from the Al-Quds Brigades whom the army said were trying to fire rockets towards Israel from the Zeitun neighborhood.

Several hours earlier, four civilians had been killed in the nearby district of Shejaiya when Israeli artillery fired towards a house outside which a group of youngsters had been playing football, Palestinian medics said.

Among the dead were two boys, one who was 11 and another who was 16. Another 12 people were wounded, including three young children.

Overnight, the Al Quds Brigades Insurgent fired a Grad rocket at Ashdod but it fell short, prompting Israel to mount an air strike which injured two Al Quds militants, one critically.

The dramatic increase in tension along the Gaza border prompted warnings from Israeli officials, with Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warning a fresh war on the Islamist Hamas movement was looming.

"It’s only a matter of time until we clash with Hamas again, and again teach them the rules," he told army radio as officials in Beersheva closed schools for the day and urged people to remain close to their bomb shelters.

"I have no doubt that it will happen — they are taking all the steps leading in that direction."

Hamas premier Ismail Haniya also called for military intervention — asking the UN Security Council to take action "to protect our people and punish the Israeli occupation," a statement said.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, currently in Moscow, condemned "the Israeli escalation which has cost the lives of many Palestinians, including children," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed regret over the civilian deaths, but blamed Hamas for Israel’s shelling of the Shejaiya house, saying they were "using civilians as human shields."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also spoke out, saying he was "very concerned" at the escalating situation in Gaza and southern Israel, a statement from his office said.

"He reiterates as well his condemnation of rocket fire by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including from populated areas, against civilian targets in southern Israel," it said, calling on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

In response to the civilian deaths in Shejaiya, the army said it had opened an investigation, while insisting there were "terrorists among the dead."


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