Suicide bomber detonates explosives belt on bus

Friday, November 22, 2002

JERUSALEM -- A 13-year-old Israeli girl was buried at sunset Thursday on a Jerusalem hilltop, one of 11 people killed when a Palestinian man blew himself up on a crowded bus. Four of the dead were children.

It was the first attack in Jerusalem since August, and the bomber's hometown -- Bethlehem -- braced for retaliation.

Late Thursday, the army ordered residents of about 30 homes in el-Khader, on the outskirts of Bethelehem, to leave their homes so the army could take up positions, residents said.

The army confirmed soldiers were operating in el-Khader, and an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said the Israeli Cabinet had decided the army would carry out a "pinpoint operation," which would include entering Bethlehem.

Two claim responsibility

Two militant Islamic groups claimed responsibility for Thursday morning's bomb attack: Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Gissin said Hamas would be the group targeted.

Hamas participated in talks with Egypt and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement to negotiate a freeze on Palestinian attacks at least until Israel's Jan. 28 election. A first round of talks in Cairo ended inconclusively.

Among the dead were four children: two 13-year-olds, an 8-year-old boy who died along with his grandmother, and a 16-year-old boy whose mother also was killed.

Passengers and police said the bomber boarded bus No. 20 and detonated the explosives belt at about 7:10 a.m., as the bus was stopped in Jerusalem's Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, police said.

The blast blew out the bus windows and sent glass shards and body parts flying.

Eleven people were killed and at least 48 wounded, eight of them seriously. Israel Radio said many of the casualties were students, though hospital officials declined to give a breakdown.

'This is a challenge'

Israeli police identified the bomber as Nael Abu Hilail, 23.

Abu Hilail's father, Azmi, said he was pleased with his son. "Our religion says we are proud of him until the day of resurrection," Abu Hilail said. "This is a challenge to the Zionist enemies."

He said Israeli troops had arrested another son and a nephew after the bombing.

Several of Nael Abu Hilail's friends said he was a supporter of Islamic Jihad.

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