Middle East

Deadly bombing targets Jerusalem bus stop

One person has died and more than 30 others are injured after a bomb blast at a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem.

The bomb had been left in a bag by the side of the road near the central bus station, police said.

Jerusalem suffered a spate of bus bombings by Palestinian militants between 2000 and 2004 but attacks had stopped in recent years.

Israel's prime minister said the country would act aggressively to restore security.

"Israel will act aggressively, responsibly and wisely to preserve the quiet and security that prevailed here over the past two years," Benjamin Netanyahu said.

He said the attackers sought to test the country's will and determination and said the Israeli people had "an iron will" to defend their country.

Shattered windows

Witnesses said the force of the blast - just after 1500 local time (1300 GMT) - shook buildings over a wide area.

Dozens of ambulances converged on the scene near the entrance to the city, and police sealed off the area.

It is believed the bomb exploded as a bus pulled up at the stop, but it is not clear if passengers on the bus were among the casualties.

Israeli officials initially said no-one had been killed in the blast but later confirmed that a woman had died from her injuries.

A correspondent for AFP news agency at the scene said people were lying on the ground covered in blood and many cars and buses had shattered windows.

"(We believe) the device weighed about 1-2kg (2-4lb)," Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Israel's Channel 2 television.

"It exploded in a small suitcase on the sidewalk next to the bus stop."

Motti Bukchin, a volunteer with the Israeli emergency service Zaka, said he and his colleagues were in a meeting nearby when they heard the blast.

"When we arrived at the site of the attack we saw two women lying in huge pools of blood on the pavement. We began resuscitation immediately and were soon joined by other medical personnel. The two women were evacuated to hospital in serious to critical condition," he said.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the BBC they were searching for a suspect and a vehicle believed to have been used in planting the bomb.

Medics said many of the injured had shrapnel wounds.

Three are seriously injured and five are in "a moderate condition, while the rest are less badly hurt", Uri Shacham, a senior paramedic told reporters.

After the attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu met defence and security officials, delaying by a few hours a scheduled trip to Moscow where he is due to hold talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

'Unacceptable' attack

Jerusalem was hit by a series of bombings - mostly targeting buses and restaurants - during the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. However the attacks have stopped in recent years. Jerusalem last experienced a bus bombing in 2004.

The latest attacks comes amid heightened tension in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza says none of the militant factions there has said it was involved in the Jerusalem attack.

But an Islamic Jihad leader said a Palestinian attack would be a "natural response" to this week's Israeli strikes in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Israeli warplanes launched fresh air strikes east of Gaza City, after Palestinian militants fired two rockets into southern Israel.

Islamic Jihad said it carried out the rocket attacks in reprisal for the killing of eight Palestinians near Gaza City on Tuesday. Four of those killed were members of one family and two of them were children.

Hamas government spokesman Taher Nono has refused to comment on the Jerusalem explosion.

However, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the bombing, calling it "a terrorist attack".

US President Barack Obama condemned the Jerusalem attack "as well as the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza in recent days".

"We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties," he said.

Condemnation also came from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said "such attacks are unacceptable".

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, called on the public to be alert but to "return to regular routines as quickly as possible".

"When terror attempts to disrupt our way of life, the best solution is to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Events in Jerusalem will not be cancelled and Jerusalem will not stop running," he said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague described the attack as "shocking and deeply distressing".