Deadly Blast Strikes Outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station
By ISABEL KERSHNER and J. DAVID GOODMAN
Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the minister of internal security, said the device was relatively small, weighing from two pounds to a little over four pounds, and had been left in a bag near a bus stop at the western edge of the city, outside a convention center and across from the central station. News media reported that there was no sign of a body at the scene to indicate a suicide attack.
Most of those injured were standing on the street waiting for the bus to arrive. Television images showed people carried away in stretchers.
At the time of the blast, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was meeting with senior members of the security establishment for consultations about the escalating violence along the border with Gaza.
A stray Israeli mortar shell killed three Palestinian youths and a 60-year-old man on Tuesday as Israel responded to a rocket attack. On Tuesday night, the Israeli Air Force killed four militants in a car in Gaza, all members of Islamic Jihad, the organization and the Israeli military said. The army said the men were preparing to launch rockets at Israel. Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired rockets deep into southern Israel, and Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza.
Mr. Netanyahu was supposed to leave for Russia at 5 p.m. local time, about two hours after the explosion, but a spokesman for the prime minister said he had decided to delay his departure.
Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, told reporters at the scene that Israel was witnessing “an escalation on all fronts.” Checkpoints have been set up on roads across Israel as police search for suspects.
“The actions of the terrorist organizations obligate us to act,” he said, without elaborating.
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank condemned the bombing, The Associated Press reported. In Gaza, two militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, praised and welcomed the attack. But there were no claims of responsibility.After the explosion, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said he would consult with the army chief of staff and the minister of home front security.
"We will not tolerate attacks on Israeli civilians, neither in the southern communities nor in Jerusalem," he said in a statement.
On Wednesday morning, at least one Katyusha-type rocket hit a street in the center of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, about 25 miles southeast of Gaza, slightly wounding one man and causing damage to nearby houses. Several mortar shells also fell on the Israeli side of the Gaza border, the Israeli military said.
Mr. Barak said that Israel held Hamas responsible for Wednesday’s rocket attacks, and added that "responsibility comes with a price."
The Israeli army will "continue to act to protect citizens of the state and to carry out preventive actions" along the Gaza border, he added. "There will be ups and downs. It will not be over by tomorrow, but we are determined to restore security and calm."
The bomb at the bus stop on Wednesday detonated as two buses pulled into the crowded stop, a passenger on one of the buses, Yair Zimmerman, said in an interview. Small holes were seen in the body of one of the buses, suggesting the explosive device had been packed with ball-bearings, to increase the level of damage.
“I knew instantly that it was a terrorist attack,” he said, describing a chaotic scene cut through with the smell of burnt plastic and blood.
The woman who was killed suffered a chest injury in the blast and died shortly after, according to officials at Hadassah Hospital. They did not provide any information on her identity.
The police were searching for a car that they said had been seen fleeing the scene. Dozens of police officers and soldiers combed through debris for fragments of the bomb. The bus station is adjacent to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Givat Shaul, and hundreds of ultra-orthodox young men gathered at the scene after the explosion.
Two weeks ago, a municipal worker lost his hand when a pipe bomb exploded in a trash bag in the southern section of Jerusalem. There were no claims of responsibility or arrests in that case.
The Jerusalem police commander, Aharon Franco, said in a televised interview that the police would also investigate whether there was any link between this attack and earlier pipe bomb explosion. “Despite the calm of the last few years, we are calling on the public to be alert,” the police commander said.