Ambush leaves seven dead in deadly attack against civilians

EMMANUEL, West Bank -- In an elaborate ambush, Palestinians disguised as Israeli soldiers set off a bomb to stop a bus near a Jewish settlement Tuesday and then fired on its passengers as they scrambled to escape. Seven people were killed and 14 wounded.

The ambush was the first deadly attack on Israeli civilians since June 20, and occurred hours before officials from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations met in New York to discuss ways of ending more than 21 months of violence and easing the humanitarian situation in Palestinian territories.

Several militant groups rushed to claim responsibility for the attack, which was a near replica of one on Dec. 12 that killed 11 people in the same place -- at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlement of Emmanuel, between the West Bank towns of Qalqilya and Nablus.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion as the armored bus, traveling a regular route between Emmanuel and another ultra-Orthodox town inside Israel, Bnei Brak, neared the settlement entrance.

Gunmen wore uniforms

The blast was followed by smaller grenade explosions and bursts of automatic fire that lasted for several minutes. The witnesses said three to four gunmen dressed in Israeli army uniforms opened fire on the passengers as they tried to escape.

The militants fled and were pursued by army helicopters.

Rachel Gross, a 17-year-old high school student, said the bus lurched into the air when the bomb went off. "I got down under the seats, as fast as I could, because the terrorists began firing bursts and throwing grenades, it went on and on it seemed like eternity," she said while visiting the wounded at a hospital. She was not hurt.

The ambush killed seven people and wounded 14, three of them seriously, police and hospital officials said. Among the wounded was a 2-year-old, two 12-year-olds and a pregnant woman, Israel TV said.