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November 21, 2002

Militants admit Israel bus blast

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The military wing of the Islamic movement Hamas has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Jerusalem which killed 11 other people and injured more than 40 during the morning rush hour.

The bus, travelling towards the centre of the city, was full when the passenger blew himself up at 0715 local time (0515 GMT).

In a statement, the group said the bombing was in response to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the killing of Palestinians, pledging that more such deadly attacks would follow.

Hamas, whose immediate aim is to secure an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks against Israeli targets since the Palestinian uprising against occupation began two years ago.

Israeli officials have said the country is planning a rapid response.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Jeremy Cooke says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under intense pressure to take a hard line against Palestinian extremists as he seeks re-election in a January poll.

'Bloodshed agenda'

One of those killed in the blast was a 13-year-old girl, while as many as half of the injured are reported to be under the age of 18.

Local resident Ariel Gino told Reuters news agency the explosion was so loud he thought his roof had come off.

"I rushed out and saw people lying on the street. Some were screaming, some were crying.

"There were about five or six people still in the bus. They weren't moving. Some on the street had blood on their faces, others had burns," he said.

An Israeli radio reporter said schoolbooks lay scattered by the charred remains of the bus.

The attack on Thursday was the first fatal bombing in Jerusalem since 31 July, when seven people were killed at the Hebrew University. It is the deadliest since June 18, when 19 civilians died in a suicide attack.

It came just two days after Israeli troops shot dead six Palestinians, including a teenager, during a raid on the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority condemned the bus blast, but said that Israel was responsible for continued violence due to its army's behaviour in Palestinian towns and cities.