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December 2, 2001
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West Asia peace process in tatters;
28 Israelis killed

Harsh Dobhal in Jerusalem

Launching a series of deadly attacks in a span of 12 hours, Palestinian extremists unleashed terror in the heart of Israel's cities, setting off explosions, which claimed 28 lives and left 170 injured, police said on Sunday.

Sixteen Israelis were killed and about 40 injured when a suicide bombing ripped apart a bus in the northern port city of Haifa, 130 km from Jerusalem, on Sunday, hours after a string of explosions killed 12 people at a busy pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem.

A second bus travelling behind the first one was also damaged in the blast.

Israel TV showed images of blood and horror at the site with bloodstained people running and screaming.

Some eyewitnesses said there was a second blast moments after the first explosion. They said the explosion sent the bus crashing into a wall.

The area had been closed off, as the police searched for more bombs possibly hidden in the vicinity.

The police said the bus attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, but they did not give details.

Twelve people were killed and over 180 injured in three coordinated bomb explosions -- two of them suicide bombs -- in a crowded downtown Jerusalem pedestrian mall on Saturday night.

Claiming responsibility for the attacks, radical Palestinian group Hamas said in statements posted on its Web site that 28 people had perished in the suicide and shooting incidents against the Israelis.

"There cannot be anything but anger and condemnation for those who have done it. I can only say that the Palestine leadership will do everything it can to arrest and follow up on these actions and do its very best to stop them," Palestine Cabinet Minister Nabil Sha'ath said.

The Palestinian leadership declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip and West Bank following the attacks.

Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres convened a security cabinet meeting to discuss the suicide attacks. However, no operative decisions were likely until Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, presently in the United States, returned from Washington.

The two suicide bombers, who were situated some 40 metres apart, blew themselves up almost simultaneously, shortly before midnight. The third explosion, a car bomb that was targeted at the rescue workers, went off some 10 minutes later a few metres away.

"This is the worst attack on Jerusalem that has ever happened," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said, and blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the attacks.

Arafat "bears direct responsibility for what happened today in Jerusalem", he said.

Stating that Israel would respond to the terrorist attacks, Pazner said, "Israel will certainly react ... when blood is running in the streets of Jerusalem, Israel will not remain inactive."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Arafat condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms".

The Palestinian Authority released a statement condemning the terror attacks and expressed its "deep anger ... and pain over the incident".

PTI

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