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Israel Holds Off on Retaliatory Strike

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Israel Holds Off on Retaliatory Strike

By IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM - With a U.S.-backed peace plan hanging in the balance, Israel decided Wednesday to hold off on a major military strike in response to a Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed at least 20 people, including as many as six children, a security official said.

The attack was one of the deadliest in three years of fighting, and about 40 of the more than 100 wounded were children. Tuesday's blast ripped through a bus packed with ultra-Orthodox Jewish families returning from the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top defense officials decided Wednesday to give Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan some time to begin cracking down on the militants, as Israel has long demanded, the security official said. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Israel would not wait long and expected to see some action already Wednesday.

Dahlan met with Palestinian security commanders in the Gaza Strip, but a decision on possible action against those involved in the bombing will only be made later Wednesday, at a Palestinian Cabinet meeting, said Dahlan spokesman Elias Zananiri.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who could lose his job if violence persists, has said he will not confront the militants because he fears internal fighting. However, Abbas is now under growing pressure to take strong action against militants, as required by the "road map" peace plan.

Abbas was meeting with Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza City on Tuesday evening when he received word of the bombing. Condemning the attack as a "terrible crime," he broke off contact with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He also called off trips to Italy and Norway, initially planned for later this week, and convened an emergency Cabinet meeting.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas leaders insisted Wednesday they remain committed to a three-month truce they and other militants declared unilaterally on June 29, but said they reserve the right to take revenge for the killing of operatives by Israeli troops.

There were some indications that the bomber, who had disguised himself as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, had also tried to settle a personal score with the attack. The assailant, 29-year-old mosque preacher Raed Mesk from the West Bank city of Hebron, was friends with an Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron, Mohammed Sidr, who was killed by troops last week.

Israel is expected to intensify its hunt for wanted militants if the Palestinian security forces do not take action, but a major military strike, on par with last year's offensives in response to bombings of a similar scale, is not being considered, the Israeli defense official said.

Security officials also decided against targeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the official said. In the past, troops have repeatedly besieged Arafat's West Bank headquarters.

Both sides appear to have a continued interest in keeping the U.S.-backed peace plan alive.

"It is absolutely necessary to continue on the political track because the alternative is a return to the never-ending cycle of blood," military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. He said the United States would likely increase its pressure on the Palestinian Authority to round up militants.

In the meantime, Israel froze all contacts with the Palestinian Authority and canceled the planned handover of two West Bank towns to Palestinian control, a move that had been expected later this week. The Israeli army also closed border crossings to seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat criticized Israel's decision, saying it was important to maintain contacts. "The main message I want to send to the Americans is that ... every possible effort should be exerted to keep the road map and the truce alive," he said.

The suicide bomber detonated the explosives in the center of a tandem bus, which has two passenger sections, shortly after 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) on a main thoroughfare in central Jerusalem.

Many Jewish worshippers had stepped aboard at the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall. The bus was headed to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the city's outskirts, and families with children were packed in the seats and aisles.

A rescue worker, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, said he was one of the first people on the scene and while checking to see if there were any people alive among the dead, he found a baby just a few months old, crying and alive. The baby is hospitalized, and after a nightlong search, rescue workers found the parents alive in another hospital, officials said.

"I had just come home from praying at the Western Wall and was heading home," said Zvi Weiss, an 18-year-old seminary student from New York City who sat in the front of the bus and escaped unharmed.

"The bomb went off at the back of the bus. Everything went black. I climbed out of the broken window and started running," Weiss said. "All around me there were people covered in blood, screaming, some with limbs missing."

The blast, just across from a synagogue, was so powerful it blew a hole in the bus roof and shattered the windows of a passing bus. Rescuers had to use blowtorches to get out some of the wounded. Police said the bomb had been packed with bits of metal for greater deadliness.

Several crying children with tattered clothes and blood-smeared faces were led away from the scene. One paramedic cradled a little girl in his arms, while television footage showed doctors leaning over a bloodied infant in an ambulance. Paramedics treated the wounded on the sidewalk, and body parts were strewn amid broken glass.

In an Israeli prison, Palestinian security prisoners applauded joyously and passed out candy when they learned of the bombing, the Israel Prisons Authority said. The leaders among the inmates were sent into isolation and the rest had their TV sets removed as punishment, the authority said.

The ambassadors of the European Union, Italy and Ireland laid a wreath Wednesday against a tree and lit 18 candles — matching early estimates of the number of dead — on a roundabout close to where the bomber struck. The bombing drew statements of condemnation and condolences from the United States, the European Union, Britain and the United Nations.

The blast came just hours after a truck packed with explosives devastated the U.N. headquarters in Iraq, killing at least 20 people.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Abbas "to take decisive action to arrest the instigators of this attack and prevent such attacks from happening again," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

Since the intefadeh began in September 2000, more than 2,400 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 800 on the Israeli side.

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Originally posted by igloo

Tell that to the families in the bus yesterday shitbag

yeah. while i'm at it, what do you think i should say to the countless palestinian families who have lost babies, children of their own in this senseless conflict? ha, smartass? you talk shit but you contribute nothing meaningful. why do you even continue to lurk here or respond to my posts if you hate me so much?

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Originally posted by sassa

how noble of them...:rolleyes:

this eye for an eye shit has got to stop.

Why the rolleyes face? They witheld from engaging in the eye for an eye shit which you just said needs to stop. So what is the problem? Nevermind don't answer...I forgot, you hate and criticize everything American and Jewish/Isreali.

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Originally posted by skince55

Why the rolleyes face? They witheld from engaging in the eye for an eye shit which you just said needs to stop. So what is the problem? Nevermind don't answer...I forgot, you hate and criticize everything American and Jewish/Isreali.

:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes::laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

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Originally posted by sassa

yeah. while i'm at it, what do you think i should say to the countless palestinian families who have lost babies, children of their own in this senseless conflict? ha, smartass? you talk shit but you contribute nothing meaningful. why do you even continue to lurk here or respond to my posts if you hate me so much?

sssshhhhh...do everyone a favor and just go away...

Doesn't clown school start soon?

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