At least 14 killed in suicide car bombing in Israel

H By Cliff Churgin and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

hADERA, Israel (KRT) – A suicide car bombing destroyed a bus at the Karkur Junction on Monday, about five miles from Hadera in northern Israel, killing at least 14 passengers and wounding more than 40 people. Two bombers also died.

The militant Islamic Jihad movement claimed responsibility for the attack, which the Palestinian Authority condemned.

The bombing was the most deadly suicide attack since early August. A smaller attack a month ago prompted Israel to surround and destroy much of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters. That military action was sharply criticized by the Bush administration, which is worried about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its ability to build a coalition against Iraq. It was unclear how Israel would respond this time.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer condemned Monday’s bombing.

Bus 841 was on its way from Kiryat Shemona to Tel Aviv when it stopped at the Karkur Junction at 4:23 p.m. A passenger got on and spoke to driver Chaim Avraham, but before he could answer, a Kia jeep loaded with an estimated 175 pounds of explosives rammed the back of the bus, causing an explosion.

Lightly wounded passengers, bystanders and soldiers from a nearby base began to evacuate the wounded, but the bus quickly caught fire. The fire’s heat caused ammunition that soldiers on the bus were carrying to explode and prevented rescue workers from boarding the bus for 30 minutes.

Michael Yitzhaki, a 65-year-old tour guide, was sitting in the front of the bus, next to his friend the driver.

“I was coming from Tiberias, where I left a tour group, and was going to Ranaana, where I live. I heard the explosion and immediately understood that it was not inside the bus. I managed to drag one soldier off the bus but could not go back to get another. That was my one regret. Apparently they put gasoline in the car, because it burned much faster than diesel. In five minutes the bus was in flames.”

Hadera is about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The area around the coastal city has seen many Palestinian bombings, with terrorists crossing over from the northern West Bank, less than a half-hour’s drive away. Police think the explosives-laden car came from the West Bank city of Jenin.

The Karkur Junction is near a military base, and there were a number of soldiers on the bus. Avraham, the driver, said, “Three border police, two men and a woman, got on the bus just before the explosion.”

Aaron Palado, an 18-year-old resident of Hadera, was returning from a visit to Tiberias. His face spattered with blood, he obviously was in shock when he spoke at the Hillel Yafe Hospital in Hadera.

“I was sitting in the front row and I was thrown forward,” he said. “I lost my glasses. I ran off the bus and sat down. I saw burned people. I saw people bleeding. Someone came up to me and gave me a drink. I turned around and saw the bus was in flames.”

The waiting room at the hospital’s emergency room was a chaotic, tragic scene, with relatives bursting into cries of despair on receiving word that their family members had died.

The attack came two days before Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was due to visit Israel as part of a tour of Middle East nations.

Israel recently has attacked the Gaza Strip repeatedly, targeting Palestinian militants. Bystanders, including children, have been killed and wounded. The Bush administration has urged Israel to be more cautious.