Gur Salomon, Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, March 23 (Xinhua) — A 59-year-old woman was killed and over 30 people were wounded when a bomb detonated near a crowded bus station in Jerusalem Wednesday afternoon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the attack late in the day, vowing to act “vigorously.”
“They are trying to test our resolve and the fortitude of our people. They will learn that the government, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli public have an iron will to defend the state and its citizens,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement sent by the Prime Minister’s office.
“We will act vigorously, responsibly and prudently in order to maintain the quiet and the security that have prevailed here over the past two years,” he added.
Dozens of passerby were in the immediate vicinity when the explosion, heard throughout the city, occurred just after local time 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Despite the relatively small size of the explosive device, a one-to-two kilogram bomb hidden next to a telephone booth, it was powerful enough to blow out the windows of two buses.
A teenager, who was on a bus a few hundred meters from the blast, said the pressure wave shook her bus. “Everyone on the bus jumped, and then the driver stopped,” she told Xinhua, adding “he kept driving a short distance and then opened the doors for us to get off.”
Police and medical crew rushed to the scene. The entrance to the city and surrounding roads were closed to traffic, as security forces set up roadblocks in an attempt to catch the perpetrators and searched the area for other explosive devices.
Magen David Adom emergency services evacuated the casualties to several local hospitals. Three are listed in serious condition, four moderately and the remainder in moderate to light condition. A woman, who sustained critical wounds, died shortly after arriving at the hospital. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Jerusalem District Police Chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco told reporters that his men were investigating how the bomb was detonated, and that no intelligence on an impending terror attack was received.
Several terror attacks have taken place in Jerusalem in recent years. Police, however, noted that the latest attack was the first since 2004 in which an explosive device was used.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad harshly condemned the attack. “It is a terrorist attack and we are closely following it up, although we don’t have enough information over who is behind it. But I condemn this terrorist operation,” Fayyad said.
Wednesday’s bombing comes amid a sharp escalation along Israel’ s border with the Gaza Strip, with repeated rocket and mortar fire into Israeli cities and communities adjacent to the coastal enclave, and retaliatory strikes by the IDF.
Eight Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed in one Israeli attack on Tuesday, when a tank fired a shell at militants not far from the border fence. Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip Wednesday afternoon fired a volley of seven mortars at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon with no injuries or damage reported, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit said.
Senior Israeli officials said in recent days that the deterrence Israel achieved in the 2009 Gaza war has gradually eroded, and suggested that another large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip may be required to quell rocket attacks.
The escalation along Israel’s borders requires the government to take action or face the risk of losing its deterrence, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told reporters at the site of Wednesday’s blast. He declined to comment on the type of action necessary.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who met with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz for consultations, shortly after returning from the United States on Wednesday, said that Israel “cannot tolerate attacks on its citizens, in the south and in Jerusalem,” referring to the escalation along the Israeli-Gaza border.
“Not everything will end tomorrow, but we are determined to return the quiet and security,” said Barak.