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Bomb explodes in central Jerusalem amid rocket attacks on South

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Emergency personnel responding to the scene of a bomb explosion near a bus station in the center of Jerusalem, March 23, 2011.  (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Emergency personnel responding to the scene of a bomb explosion near a bus station in the center of Jerusalem, March 23, 2011. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — One woman was killed and at least three dozen people were injured when a bomb exploded in central Jerusalem.

Two of the injuries in the attack, which took place shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday, were considered serious, according to news reports citing Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross. One of the injured went straight to surgery at Hadassah Hospital; five others are reported in moderate condition, injured by shrapnel packed into the 2- to 4-pound bomb.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who delayed by several hours leaving on a planned trip to Moscow, said following the attack that his government has had a clear and successful policy on security, including "a vigorous response to any attempt to harm Israeli citizens, and systematic and assertive preventive measures against terrorism," which have led to two years of relative quiet. 

"Recently, there have been elements that have tried to violate this quiet," Netanyahu said in a statement. "They are trying to test our resolve and the fortitude of our people. They will learn that the government, the IDF and the Israeli public have an iron will to defend the state and its citizens. 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."

President Obama in condemning the Jerusalem bombing stressed that "Israel, like all other nations, has a right to self-defense" and "in the strongest possible terms." In the same statement, Obama offered condolences for the deaths Tuesday of Palestinian civilians in Gaza that were caused by Israeli tank fire.

"There is never any possible justification for terrorism," Obama said. "We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence and civilian casualties."

Similarly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a statement issued from Russia, where he is on an official visit, condemned the attack as well as the Israeli military’s attacks in Gaza that killed eight Palestinians, including four civilians.

Palestinian terror groups in Gaza praised the bombing. Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed called the attack a "natural response to the enemy’s crimes. It is a clear and powerful message to Israel that her crimes won’t be able to break the resistance."

Police said the bomb was left in a bag either in a telephone booth next to a busy bus stop or at the bus stop itself, along a main artery in central Jerusalem, near the International Convention Center and about a block from the city’s central bus terminal. The blast blew out the windows of two buses picking up passengers.

The entrance to the city of Jerusalem was closed following the explosion.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called on citizens to return to their normal lives, so that the terrorists could not score a victory in the attack, The Jerusalem Post reported. He also asked Jerusalem residents to keep their eyes open in order to prevent future attacks. Barkat called the explosion a "cowardly terrorist attack."

A marathon through the streets of Jerusalem is scheduled for Friday. Barkat told reporters that he still planned to participate in the run.

Jerusalem during the second Palestinian intafada was the site of dozens of attacks that targeted buses.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom threatened to launch a new operation against Gaza in the wake of increased shelling on Israel’s South.

"The period of restraint is over; we must do everything we can to strike out against those who wish to hurt the innocent," said Shalom on a visit to a site in Beersheba struck by two long-range Grad rockets on Wednesday. "I hope it won’t come to another Operation Cast Lead, but if there is no other choice we will launch another operation."

Shalom, of the Likud Party, grew up in the Beersheba residential neighborhood hit by the rockets, which left one man wounded. The attack followed a Grad rocket attack Tuesday on the port city of Ashdod; that rocket landed near the center of the city of 200,000. Ashdod schools were closed Wednesday following the attack.

At least seven mortars and one other rocket were fired into southern Israel on Wednesday morning. Israel’s Home Front Command called on Israelis living in the country’s south to go about their daily routine, despite the increasing rocket fire.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel’s Air Force said it bombed the rocket launcher from which the rocket was fired into Ashdod.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel will continue to take pre-emptive action to protect its citizens, including acting along the Gaza border.

"There will be highs and lows," Barak said. "Not everything will end tomorrow, but we are determined to return the quiet and security."

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and board chair Davidi Gilo, who are in Jerusalem for a Knesset debate, condemned the Jerusalem bombing and the increase of rocket attacks on the South in a statement issued Wednesday.
 
"We support the state of Israel in taking the steps necessary to respond to today’s attacks, to protect all its citizens, and to bring those who perpetrated today’s attack to justice," the statement said.

In condemning the bombing, B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in a statement that its timing "clearly suggests that this was a thinly veiled attempt by Islamists to try to refocus the international community on Israel and away from the brutal attempts by Libya and Arab regimes to quell the struggle for democracy in the Middle East and Northern Africa."

Meanwhile, an 8-year-old Gaza boy injured in an Israeli attack was taken to an Israeli hospital Wednesday for treatment. The transfer was coordinated with the Palestinians.
 

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