Blast on Tel Aviv bus as Gaza truce remains elusive

Agence France-Presse

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The attack came as Hamas-controlled Gaza was rocked by new Israeli air strikes and the US and the UN try to push for a ceasefire

VIOLENCE ESCALATES. Israeli police gather after a blast ripped through a bus near the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on November 21, 2012. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL BAR-ON

JERUSALEM, Israel – A blast ripped through a bus in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, November 21, injuring 17 people in what Israel said was a “terrorist” attack, further vexing international efforts to end relentless Gaza-linked violence.

The attack came as Hamas-controlled Gaza was rocked by new Israeli air strikes and as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah trying to secure a halt to the bloodletting.

“A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman said on his official Twitter account.

Medics said 17 people were wounded, including one in moderate to serious condition while another three sustained moderate injuries.

Police said the blast took place on a street which runs just behind the Kiriya, Israel’s sprawling defence ministry in central Tel Aviv.

Television images showed the bus with its windows blown out and its metal frame contorted from the force of the blast, in images reminiscent of scenes from the second Palestinian intifada (2000-2005).

The front window was completely shattered and glass littered the floor as the wounded were loaded into ambulances by an army of medics.

Calls for truce

Just before the explosion, the UN chief had called for an immediate halt to militant rocket attacks on Israel after talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“I reiterate my call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israeli populated centres. This is unacceptable,” he told a news conference .

“Now is the time for diplomacy and stopping the violence,” he said after a week of deadly Israeli air strikes on Gaza which have killed more than 130, as militants fired more than 1,500 rockets over the border, killing five Israelis.

Abbas had earlier held talks with Clinton, with a senior official saying he had expressed hope that a truce would be announced by the end of Wednesday, while the US diplomat was still in the region.

“President Abbas told Clinton that Egypt was the key to everything,” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat after the 45-minute meeting.

“The secretary of state assured president Abbas that the United States has done everything possible to reach a ceasefire” in the conflict between Israel and Gaza militants, Erakat said.

Egypt brokering talks

Clinton was scheduled later Wednesday to visit Cairo, where Egypt is mediating indirect talks between Hamas and Israeli officials before returning to Washington.

Before her departure, Clinton returned to Jerusalem for a second round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their second meeting since her arrival late on Tuesday.

Speaking ahead of the bus blast, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told AFP that the Jewish state still hoped for a diplomatic solution.

“The diplomatic ball is still in play. We have not given up on the hope of having a long-term solution achieved through diplomacy, I hope it’s still possible,” he said.

The Israeli military said that during the night it had targeted more than 100 sites across the Gaza Strip, one of which hit the building that houses AFP’s Gaza City, which was damaged but the strike caused no injuries.

The army said that since midnight 16 rockets had hit southern Israel and a further 12 were intercepted midair.

Israel’s offensive, launched on November 14 with the targeted killing of a Hamas military chief, has killed at least 136 Palestinians, while five Israelis, including a soldier, have been killed in rocket attacks.

A senior Hamas official told AFP in Cairo that a key sticking point in truce talks was the timing of when Israel would begin easing its six-year blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu had told Clinton on Tuesday night that he was ready to agree to a “long-term solution” as long as the rocket attacks from Gaza stopped. – Agence France-Presse

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