TEL AVIV — An explosive device was detonated inside a bus on Tel Aviv’s Shaul Hamelech Street at noon on Wednesday in what Israeli police said was a terror attack. Magen David Adom medical services said 20 people were wounded in the attack. The bomb blew out the windows on the vehicle, a 76 line bus belonging to the Dan company, causing extensive damage but no fatalities.
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center officials said one person was seriously wounded, one person moderately wounded, and one person was listed in light-to-moderate condition. The official said that the three people were being operated on for blast, burn and shrapnel injuries, mostly from nuts and bolts lodged in their bodies. All the others were lightly hurt and some were being treated for shock.
The attack, in central Tel Aviv, took place near the IDF Kirya military headquarters, Sourasky Medical Center, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The military headquarters was placed on high alert after the attack.
Police said that a person had thrown a bag into the bus on Shaul Hamelech Street and ran away. The bus was not especially full of passengers at the time. Police were conducting searches around the area and ordered people off the streets.
Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino confirmed it was a terror attack. “One of the scenarios we have been preparing for is more than just rockets but also terror attacks in our cities. There is high motivation by the terror groups to hit our cities. We are massively deployed throughout the entire country with a special emphasis on the big cities. We are interviewing eyewitnesses and conducting an investigation in conjunction with the Shin Bet. If there is a terrorist on the loose we are doing everything to put our hands on him,” Danino said.
Police were conducting a chase after possible suspects in the area after the attack, saying that there were possibly two people involved in the attack. Police Special Forces caught a suspect near the Yahalom Theatre in the nearby Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange, but the man was released shortly afterward when it became clear he was not connected to the bus bombing. Police were searching for a female suspect said to be in possession of another explosives device in Tel Aviv, as well as checking other possible avenues for accomplices.
The attack came on the eighth day of Operation Pillar of Defense amid intensive cease-fire talks attempting to ward off a massive IDF ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the Forum of Nine senior ministers shortly after the attack to discuss the emerging cease-fire deal with Hamas and would take the bus bombing into account.
“There were no specific warnings of this attack but we knew this was possible during the current round of fighting,” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Wednesday. “We are dealing with murderous organizations,”Aharonovitch said.
Hamas said on its Al-Aksa TV station that a woman placed a bomb on the bus and escaped. Israeli eyewitnesses said that a short, pudgy man had placed the bag on the bus and escaped. Eyewitnesses say an individual tossed an object into the Tel Aviv bus and fled before it exploded.
Police told Channel 10 that the suspect had waited at the corner of Henrietta Szold and Shaul Hamelech streets under the building of the courthouse at the bus stop. He apparently waited for the bus doors to open and threw a bag in, which then exploded.
CNN reporter Ben Wedeman, covering Operation Pillar of Defense from Gaza, reported celebratory gunfire. “Nearby mosque claiming ‘lions of West Bank’ behind Tel Aviv bus bombing, claiming it on behalf of Hamas’s Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam brigade,” Wedeman tweeted.
Reuters reported that Hamas lauded the Tel Aviv bombing as a “natural response” to the killing of the Dalou family in Gaza earlier in the week, but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack. Other media outlets reported wild celebrations in Gaza once news of the bus bombing spread.
In other news, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were killed in separate rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
Cpl. Yosef Partuk, 18, of the West Bank town of Emanuel, was killed by a rocket that landed in the Eshkol Regional Council, in southern Israel, on Tuesday afternoon.
In a separate rocket attack in the same area, an Israeli civilian was killed, another was seriously injured and 15 soldiers were hurt.
Five Israelis, four of them civilians, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza in the last week.
Nineteen Gazan Palestinians were killed Tuesday, bringing the total number killed since Israel began its Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 14 to at least 130.
More than 140 rockets were fired at southern Israel in the seventh day since the beginning of the operation, including two aimed at Jerusalem. Some 56,000 military reservists have been called up since the beginning of the operation.
An air raid siren sounded in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon; two rockets fell in the Gush Etzion area south of the city. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets aimed at Jerusalem.
Shortly before the alarm, a rocket struck a building in the Eshkol Regional Council, reportedly injuring several people. Rockets also hit a home in Netivot and damaged homes in Sderot and Beersheva.
On Tuesday evening a rocket fired from Gaza struck a building in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, injuring several people.
A volley of 16 rockets was fired Tuesday toward Beersheva. One hit the road in front of a bus, damaging the bus, which the passengers had exited due to the air raid siren. A second rocket hit a house and a third hit a parked care. Nine of the 16 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that on Tuesday, it targeted 11 terrorist squads involved in firing rockets toward Israel and planting explosive devices at the border. The IDF also bombed 30 underground rocket launchers and a hiding place for senior terror operatives that was used to store weapons and ammunition, the IDF spokesman said. Overnight, the IDF said it targeted 100 terror sites in Gaza, including underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities.
"The sites that were targeted were positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of several months," the IDF statement said.
Since the beginning of the operation, the IDF has hit some 1,500 targets in Gaza. Iron Dome has intercepted 389 rocketsin the last week, including 51 on Tuesday
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders and encourage a cease-fire. She also was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, but no one from Hamas, Haaretz reported. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders.