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A Tel Aviv bus was blown up in a terror attack midday Wednesday, with 21 people injured but no fatalities. Reports of an imminent Pillar of Defense ceasefire proved to have been overly optimistic, and rocket fire into Israeli, and Israeli air assaults on Hamas targets in Gaza, continued.

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Preamble: As night fell on Tuesday, Israel stepped up its attacks on terror targets in Gaza — from the north of the strip to the south — with unprecedented intensity. According to reports, IAF planes struck gasoline pipelines in Rafah, a lucrative source of income for Hamas.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in Israel amid talk of an imminent ceasefire, and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. In a statement to the press, Clinton pledged continued support for Israel, and praised the Iron Dome, noting, however, that the missile defense system was no substitute for a “just and lasting peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu said Israel preferred a diplomatic solution that would ensure longterm quiet for the people of the south, but if not, Israel would do “whatever is necessary to defend its people.”

Earlier Tuesday, an IDF soldier and a civilian were killed in rocket attacks on the south, the fourth and fifth Israeli casualties since the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Guy Lehrer, who presents Channel 10′s “Tsinor Laila” (“Night Tube”) entertainment show, says Hamas just broke into Channel 10 and Channel 2 broadcasts that are carried over private satellite dishes and broadcast a few seconds of “unpleasant” propaganda. Normal Channel 10 and Channel 2 feeds weren’t interrupted, he stresses, just those transmitted via private satellite networks, serving a very small proportion of Israelis. But still…

TV news tonight was full of the news of the Rishon Lezion rocket attack. Israel’s fourth-biggest city, just south of Tel Aviv, hit for the first time.

The rocket — said to be carrying 90 kilograms of explosives — penetrated through three floors of the building, causing immense damage, but no serious injuries, because all the residents were in their safe rooms.

The owner of the top floor apartment and his wife were home when it was hit — taking refuge, as the Home Front Command requires, in the “safe room” that is legally required in modern apartment buildings. The rocket smashed directly into the apartment, “exactly where they were sitting,” said Stas Misezhnikov, the tourism minister who lives nearby, “and yet they came out alive.”

Home owner Amir emerged a little later, indeed, to say, with remarkable stoicism, “we followed the instructions. We heard the huge explosion. We knew the house had been hit. We came out; really, everything was destroyed. I calmed my wife, and we walked downstairs.”

In the past half-hour, some two dozen targets have been struck in the Gaza Strip — including more than 20 underground weapons stores — according to the IDF Spokesman’s Office.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening to discuss the conflict with Gaza, according to the Jordanian news agency Petra.

According to the report, Abdullah warned Netanyahu of the consequences of a further deterioration, saying a worsening of the fighting could threaten the security and stability of the entire region.

Roughly a third of Jordanians are of Palestinian descent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan on July 27, 2010. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports new blasts in Gaza City, near the media center that was hit in airstrikes yesterday.

He speculates that the blasts, which sound like secondary explosions, could have triggered bombs from inside the building hit by Israeli rockets.

Thousands of people rallied in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris, showing support for Israel in its fight with Gazan terrorists. They listened as leaders of the French Jewish community and other activists gave speeches.

A similar rally was held in New York, where those who gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate called on the Israeli government to continue to defend the residents of southern Israel through Operation Pillar of Defense. Senior officials reportedly joined the rally, including New York City municipal officials and state representatives.

Similar rallies were held in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and other cities across America on Tuesday.

Red Alert sirens just sounded in Ashdod and Nitzanim. Apparently, the Iron Dome system intercepted the rockets.

The IDF Spokesman confirms that it has struck the building housing Hamas’s communications office. The building contains the offices of foreign journalists, as well, including those of the French agency AFP.

Earlier, the IDF Spokesman tweeted an announcement to foreign journalists, urging them to keep their distance from Hamas officials and activists and stressing that “Hamas will use you as human shields.”

Kfir Rosen, 26, a resident of the Rishon Lezion building struck by a Fajr-5 rocket on Tuesday, said he and his brother were standing on their porch when the Red Alert siren sounded.

“We wanted to see the rocket being intercepted, so we didn’t go into the shelter,” Rosen told Ynet. “The siren ended, so I thought everything was fine… until we heard a very loud blast. Rocks fell on us from the top floor.”

Liora and Ami Pinhas, a couple who live on the top floor of the building, said the fact that they survived the attack was “a miracle.”

“God saved us,” Liora said. “We heard the siren, went into the shelter, and then we heard a loud blast… when we came out, we could hardly open the door, and then we saw that our house was gone. Nothing was left.

“It’s an indescribable miracle that we’re alive,” she added.

The Twitter account of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has been hacked by pro-Palestinian activists. They have replaced his main photo with a photo of an obscene sign, and tweeted obscene posts, ridiculing Shalom and his “sociopathic” wife and pledging support for Palestinians and denouncing Israel.

The same hackers, apparently — calling themselves “zcompany” — also hijacked the former foreign minister’s Facebook page, posting a large photo of a Palestinian swinging a rock to lob at Israelis with “Free Palestine” written across it, and posting more derisive comments.

The photo that hackers posted to Silvan Shalom's Facebook page.

The Iron Dome system has intercepted two Grad missiles over Ashdod, Israel Radio reports.

The announcement came minutes after Hamas announced that it had fired five Grad rockets at southern Israel. The remaining three missiles fell in open areas.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, speaking with CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, says Israel is “trying to reach a resolution to this conflict” that includes an end to rocket fire on Israel and that creates a “new situation” in which arms from Iran are no longer smuggled into Gaza.

Asked whether there is a military solution to the conflict, Oren responds that the solution is ultimately for Hamas to accept Israel as a “permanent, legitimate” presence in the Middle East. He also said that Israel was willing to sit down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “tonight” to resume negotiations for peace.

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Regarding the suggestion that Hamas will be strengthened by its confrontation with Israel, Oren answers that Hamas has suffered heavy blows, and that Israel has already carried out 10 times as many strikes against the “terrorist infrastructure” in Gaza as it did four years ago, during Operation Cast Lead.

He transmitted much the same message to Fox News a short time earlier, adding that Israel has appreciated Egyptian efforts to mediate in past conflicts with Hamas, and hopes the Egyptians will be helpful again in that role now.

The Facebook page of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, which had been defaced by hackers earlier, has been fixed, with the offending posts and photos removed.

Shalom’s Twitter account remains in the hands of the hackers, however, with new tweets being posted every few minutes.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reports that some Gazans with whom he has spoken in recent hours have recognized that civilian casualties from Israeli attacks are much lower than during the previous round of fighting, in late 2008 and early 2009 — and even expressed satisfaction that Israel is targeting the Hamas leaders who have instigated this current conflict.

It’s a stark contrast, fellow CNN correspondents Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer agree, from the randomness of the destruction caused by the inaccurate rockets fired by Gazan terrorists at Israel.

As has been the case in the past week, after nightfall rocket fire from Gaza is slowing considerably, even as Israel’s airstrikes on targets in Gaza continue.

Maan reports an attack on a police station in Khan Younis, and CNN reports “massive explosions” in Gaza City.

Iran’s Press TV claims that its correspondent, Akram al-Sattari, was hurt in an airstrike on Tuesday night.

Press TV said al-Sattari was injured when an Israeli missile hit a hotel in Gaza City housing foreign journalists, and said he was being treated in hospital for his injuries.

Rishon Lezion, the scene of a rocket attack on Tuesday, has announced that schools will be opened on Wednesday — but only within  a limited framework.

Some grades will not have classes on Wednesday, and some schools, including special education institutions, will be closed.

The arrangements are an attempt to balance the city’s desire to return residents to a normal daily schedule, and the need to be cautious in the face of danger.

Maan reports that an airstrike that took place about an hour ago has destroyed a Palestinian security compound west of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Much of the airstrikes in the area have targeted weapons-smuggling tunnels.

Red alert sirens sound in Gan Yavne, Gedera and the Be’er Tuvia Regional Council early Wednesday morning as several rockets are fired from Gaza.

Four rockets land in open areas in that region, causing no casualties.

While sticking points remain in details of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told BBC on Tuesday night that Israel was not rushing into a deal.

“I have no doubt that Hamas would be more than happy to have a temporary respite — a time out… so they could rest and rearm, and we would have missiles on Israel next week or next month,” Regev said. “We are not interested in that.”

An IAF airstrike overnight targets a bridge that connects the central Gaza Strip to Gaza City.

The army announces that during the night, it struck some 50 buried rocket launchers and weapons-smuggling tunnels, a set of tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle gasoline, and three weapons depots.

In addition, the army says it targeted a senior member of Hamas’s “aerial defense” unit and a terrorist who was identified at the site from which a rocket was fired at Rishon Lezion on Tuesday.

The IDF spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, says that despite the fact that “Hamas thought there was a ceasefire” last night, the IDF stepped up attacks against Hamas and Gaza terror factions, striking “over 70″ targets in the Gaza Strip.

He said that over the past day, the IDF has successfully hit and killed some 30 terrorists who were in the act of firing rockets at Israel.

He says the option of a ground operation in Gaza has “definitely” not been taken off the table, despite talk that a truce is imminent.

The Iron Dome system has intercepted a rocket that was fired from Gaza at the coastal city of Ashkelon.

Earlier, several rockets fell in open areas in the Shaar Hanegev region. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

IDF soldier Yosef Fartuk, who was killed in a rocket attack on the Eshkol region on Tuesday, will be laid to rest today at Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery at 1:30 p.m.

Alian Salem Alanbari, a Bedouin civilian from the the village of Rejwan in the Negev, who was also killed yesterday, was interred last night.

A senior Israeli official is saying that there are “substantial difficulties” delaying a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, Israel Radio reports. Still, the official is assessing that an agreement will eventually be hammered out.

Overnight Tuesday, Palestinians attacked Israeli vehicles traveling near the settlement of Kfar Tapuach in the West Bank with Molotov cocktails. Meanwhile, IDF soldiers were firebombed near Bethlehem. There were no injuries in either incident.

More sirens in Ashkelon.

Gaza terrorists have fired a second volley of rockets at the coastal city of Ashkelon. Iron Dome intercepted three of the rockets; two others fell in open areas outside the city. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Another rocket was fired at the Shaar Hanegev region. It landed in an open area.

The US blocks a planned anti-Pillar of Defense resolution in the United Nations Security Council, saying that such statements do nothing to de-escalate the conflict.

The American mission to the UN opposes a statement brought to the council by the Russians because it “failed to address the root cause” of the current crisis, i.e., rocket fire on Israel’s south, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

“We made clear that we would measure any action by the Security Council based on whether it supported the ongoing diplomacy toward de-escalation of violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities,” the spokeswoman said.

The deputy chief of Islamic Jihad, Ziad Nahalla, tells Al-Hayat that the group is optimistic about the chances for an imminent truce between Israel and Gaza, and predicts that the terms will be finalized within a few hours.

He adds that Egypt is determined to achieve the ceasefire. ”After the Egyptians spoke with the Israelis, they told us they do not want to undermine the truce and that they agreed to our demands, but that they changed the wording of things pertaining to the siege on Gaza and the easing of it,” says Nahalla.

He claims that the disagreements between the parties are now focused on the verbal formulations.

Iron Dome intercepts two rockets fired at Gan Yavne.

Two rockets fired from Gaza have been intercepted in the skies over Beersheba. Two other rockets were shot down over the Ashkelon beach region to the north of the Gaza Strip.

One Palestinian was killed and two were injured in an IAF airstrike near Al-Shaee mosque in the city of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, Maan is reporting. 

Analyst Aaron David Miller offers five reasons behind the argument that Hamas is gaining traction and legitimacy while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas flounders. His discussion can be found in a new Foreign Policy article, “How Hamas won the war.

The “Hamas trumps Abbas” dynamic works, Miller argues, because Fatah itself is in disarray after Yasser Arafat’s death, and because the absence of a credible peace process with Israel has only weakened Abbas.

In his second point, Miller describes finding peace in the Middle East as a “domain not of the doves but of hard men who can sometimes be pragmatists,” pointing out that historically, it’s the men with “street cred” who led both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to peace. Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he says, are lacking in that regard.

Miller also posits that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, given his view of Arabs and Palestinians, feels “more comfortable in the world of Hamas than of Abbas,” a world in which “toughness, security, and defending the Jewish state against Hamas rockets, incitement, and anti-Semitism” fit the premier’s own narrative, that of the heroic defender of Israel.

He also points out that the Islamist Spring, and the regional realignment it ushers in, has boosted Hamas’s standing, particularly as Egypt and Turkey — countries very much in the center of the international community, he points out — now “run interference” for the group.

Finally, Miller notes that Hamas’s rockets — not Abbas’s UN statehood bid — have put the Palestinians on the map again. He concludes by stating: “The conundrum is crystal clear: Hamas won’t make peace with Israel, and Abbas can’t. The way forward is much less so.”

There is a group of protesters outside the Ramallah offices of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Al Jazeera reports.

Visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet with Abbas this morning, continuing her efforts to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Clinton is also scheduled to meet with Israeli leaders and with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later today, before moving on to Cairo in the afternoon.

The policies of the Iranian government are extremely dangerous and Iran is heavily responsible for conflicts in the Middle East, including the current Israel-Hamas war, says French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking with AFP.

He adds that the long-rage rockets used by Hamas against Israel are Iranian, and says that negative Iranian influence can be found in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza.

A rocket has scored a direct hit on a private residence in the vicinity of Be’er Tuvia, Israel Radio is reporting. Apparently, a woman who was inside the house was pulled out by rescue services. She was unharmed.

Another rocket has fallen in an open area outside Sderot, causing neither casualties nor damage.

The Interior Ministry has allocated some NIS 15 million in emergency funds for southern communities affected by the current hostilities, Ynet reports.

Labor chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich is criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a “temporary and fragile” truce.

Speaking with Channel 1 last night, she said it was a pity that Operation Pillar of Defense’s initial success would be wasted with an unstable truce, and instead called for a “real agreement” with the involvement of the international community.

Hamas’s political leadership outside Gaza is apparently uncomfortable with the brutal execution of six suspected collaborators with Israel and the subsequent desecration of their bodies, in Gaza City on Tuesday.

An Associated Press reporter saw a mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing. Some in the crowd stomped and spat on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”

Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy of Hamas’s political bureau — generally considered more moderate than the organization’s Gaza leadership — has condemned the executions, writing on his Facebook page that those responsible should be brought to justice.

Osama Hamdan, another Hamas official who’s based in Lebanon, says Palestinians who are suspected of collaborating with Israel should be tried in court and not summarily executed.

China will host a Palestinian Authority delegation for a three-day visit to discuss the current conflict, according to Hebrew media reports.

Al Jazeera reports that Bassam al-Salhi, Palestinian People’s Party secretary general and PA Minister of Culture, will lead the delegation.

“China is paying great attention to the present situation in Gaza. China has been in close touch with Israel, Palestine and other countries, and has called on all sides, especially Israel, to exercise maximum restraint and cease fire as soon as possible to avoid the situation worsening,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying says in a news briefing.

About 4,400 children from southern communities affected by rocket fire have been able to continue attending school elsewhere in the country, Ynet reports.

Schools within a 40-kilometer range of Gaza have generally been closed during the current crisis.

In the past half hour, rockets fired from Gaza have fallen in the Eshkol region, at the entrance to a town in the Be’er Tuvia area, and south of Ashkelon. There were no reports of injuries in any of those attacks.

A house in the Be'er Tuvia region that sustained a direct hit from a rocket on Wednesday (photo credit: Channel 10 screen capture)

The IDF targets and destroys the central Gazan home of Essam Da’ales, a close adviser to Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, Ma’an News reports. Da’ales is described as a central figure in the financial management of Hamas.

It is unclear if Da’ales was at home or not, but he was not harmed in the strike.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas calls Israel’s operation in Gaza “barbaric,” says he’s been in touch with Hamas and other Palestinian factions in an effort to implement a ceasefire and end Israeli “aggression.”

He says his goal is to defend all Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza.

A group of residents being interviewed by Channel 10 in Ashkelon express the desire for IDF actions to continue in Gaza, “until the end.”

“It is hard for us, but we want it to continue,” one man says. “We are strong.”

“Go in with full strength,” another man says. Everyone seems against a cease-fire.

Israeli media are reporting an explosion in a bus in Tel Aviv in a possible terror attack. The explosion was on the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Weitzman streets. Hamas has threatened to resort to suicide bombings against Israeli civilians in retaliation to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders tell Al-Hayat that Israel offered them a ceasefire for 90 days, during which Gaza’s goodwill would be tested, before hearing their demands.

The Palestinians refuse the offer, citing three points that they demand should accompany the deescalation: a mutual ceasefire, an end to Israel’s assassinations or targeted killings in Gaza, and the immediate opening of the Strip’s border crossings.

 

Rescue services are saying there were at least 10 injured, 3 of them serious, in a terror attack on a Tel Aviv bus.

According to reports, police are chasing someone who was involved in the attack in Tel Aviv. Drivers in the area are asked to clear the streets to allow police to operate.

Hamas in Gaza is claiming that the attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber.

Police are looking into the possibility that the explosion was not a suicide bombing but rather that the perpetrator either threw the bomb at the bus or left it on the bus before fleeing.

Police apprehended a suspect, Channel 2 reports.

The scene of the bombing in Tel Aviv, Wednesday (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

“It’s a big, huge mess,” says an eyewitness to the scene on Channel 10. “There was a very big boom and a lot of ambulances, it wasn’t clear what happened.”

He says the street where the bombing occurred is near many office buildings and city hall, so there were a lot of people on the streets but he doesn’t know how many were on the bus itself.

Other eyewitnesses say they saw a man placing a bag on the bus and then running off, and nobody was reported to have been found on the bus, so it may not have been a suicide bomber.

A second suspect was apprehended in connection with the bombing of the bus, police report.

Channel 2 are saying that there are more indications that the bombing was not a suicide attack.

The scene of the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, Wednesday (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

Wednesday’s bus bombing in Tel Aviv marks the return to the city of sights not seen here for more than six years.

The last Palestinian bombing in Israel’s financial and cultural capital took place in April 2006, when an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber detonated himself at a shwarma restaurant, killing 11 and wounding dozens.

The last suicide bombing in Israel was in February 2008, in the southern town of Dimona. One Israeli was killed.

In recent years, there have been scattered stabbing attacks and attacks using motor vehicles, but bombings in Israel’s cities had all but ceased.

Bus bombing occurred in downtown Tel Aviv, near the Tel Aviv Courthouse and the Ministry of Defense headquarters, on Shaul Hamelekh Street. The vehicle was a #66 Dan bus.

 

Hamas claims responsibility for bus bombing. BBC Correspondent Jon Donnison uploads an audio clip to his Twitter feed of cheers and celebratory gunfire in Gaza after the bombing.

Channel 2 News reports Palestinians also celebrating the bombing and handing out candy outside Ramallah in the West Bank.

Iran expert Meir Javandafar says: “If today’s suicide bomber in Tel Aviv was from Islamic Jihad it would be a strong indication Iran is trying to scuttle ceasefire talks, as it is in Iran’s interest for the current conflict between Gaza and Israel to continue.

“In fact, Iran would very much like to see a ground invasion of Gaza by Israel. This would have several advantages for Iran — it would distract the international community’s attention away from Iran’s nuclear program while causing much damage to Israel’s diplomatic standing, relations with Egypt and its economy.”

Channel 2 have released a picture of what appears to be the arrest of a suspect in the bombing in Tel Aviv. Apparently, the suspect was apprehended in the stock market compound in Ramat Gan.

Police arrest a suspect in the Tel Aviv bus bombing, Wednesday (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

Crowds are growing near the site of Wednesday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, according to a Times of Israel reporter at the scene.

The attack took place near the Kirya base, the headquarters of the Israeli military. There were large numbers of soldiers and emergency personnel around the city bus targeted by the blast. Its front window was shattered.

Police were clearing onlookers away from the scene.

Police on the scene of the attack in Tel Aviv, Wednesday (photo credit: Joshua Davidovich/The Times of Israel)

Magen David Adom’s director Eli Bean: “There are no fatalities in the Tel Aviv bus blast. One person is seriously hurt, with shrapnel in all parts of his body.”  Four others are moderately  injured. Five or six others are lightly hurt. “The incident is over as far as we are concerned. The bus did not have many people on it. There are other terror warnings in other places.”

Army Radio says the bus was a Dan 61 — from the central bus station to Petah Tikva. A few minutes further along its route it would have been in a more crowded area, at the Tel Aviv train station. The blast took place one stop before.

The blast took place inside the bus, police say, making it more likely that it was a terror attack, though this is not yet confirmed.

Police are warning crowds near the scene of Wednesday’s bus attack that they will shortly conduct a controlled explosion of a suspicious object found nearby, according to a Times of Israel reporter at the scene.

The nature of the object is unclear. There have been unconfirmed reports of other planned attacks in wake of the bombing of the city bus mid-day.

BBC reporter in Gaza Rushdi Abualouf says Hamas is touting the Tel Aviv bombing over mosque loudspeakers:

@Rushdibbc

Rushdi Abualouf

#Hamas announced over loudspeakers from mosques in #Gaza“Qassam Brigades were able to place bomb on bus in #TelAviv, despite tight security

The Azrieli Center, one of the largest malls in Tel Aviv, has been closed by police as a security precaution in the wake of Wednesday’s bus bombing, Channel 2 is reporting.

The Azrieli Center is near the site of the bombing, which wounded at least 16 Israelis, according to reports.

As events unfold in Tel Aviv, rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes continue. Palestinian sources are reporting two fatalities in an IAF strike in Khan Younis.

Meanwhile, a rocket fired from Gaza fell in an open area in the Eshkol region. There were no casualties.

The terrorist behind Wednesday’s bombing in Tel Aviv threw the bomb onto the city bus and ran away, Channel 2 is reporting.

Police say the attack was not a suicide bombing.

Police have made at least one arrest, but it is not clear if the man detained was the perpetrator.

Several trucks filled with explosive warheads and ammunition have been confiscated along the Mediterranean coast by Egyptian authorities, AP reports.

The trucks contained more than 100 warheads designed for Grad rockets and a variety of small-arms ammunition, likely smuggled from Libya. The smugglers themselves fled the scene and were not apprehended.

A doctor at Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv says two seriously wounded victims were brought to hospital in the wake of Wednesday’s bus attack. They are both in surgery.

A third person suffered lighter injuries. Other injured people taken to hospital were suffering from light wounds from fragments and from the force of the explosion that ripped through a city bus in central Tel Aviv.

A total of 21 people were taken to the hospital, near the scene of the attack, after the blast.

No one was killed.

On Saturday, Hamas released a video threatening to resume suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

In the Hebrew-language clip, an announcer ominously declares, “We’ve missed the suicide bombings,” and warns: “Wait for us soon, in the stores, in the buses, in the cafes.”

Even though the bombing in Tel Aviv today was apparently not a suicide attack, the scenes were reminiscent of the Second Intifada, when a wave of bus suicide attacks hit Israeli cities, killing hundreds.

One man near the scene of Wednesday’s blast in Tel Aviv says he thought the explosion was a rocket strike.

Meir Shomrat, 54, a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, says he was on his way to visit his daughter, an employee at a nearby bank, when the explosion rocked the center of Israel’s cultural capital.

“I heard a boom and ran over here like an idiot. I have a daughter here,” he said.

A half-dozen social workers are on the scene. Some are speaking to an elderly woman who was clearly shaken by the attack.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai tells people to stay calm, and asks them to stay away from the bomb scene. “I urge everyone to stop shouting, stay calm,” he says. He says the security services have everything under control. “I don’t see any reason not to keep taking buses. People should continue with their normal lives.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai  (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

He says it’s not clear whether another suspect in the bombing is still somewhere out on the streets, and therefore kids who are finishing school at this hour are being kept from leaving until the situation is clearer. “But we all need to lower the temperature… stop shouting.”

Channel 2 is reporting, meanwhile, that the word from Cairo is that a ceasefire deal is ready. This is unconfirmed.

In the past hour, rockets fired from Gaza have fallen in the Bnei Shimon area, in the Merhavim region and near Kiryat Gat. There were no initial reports of casualties.

Police chief Yohanan Danino says police have been aware of the possibility of a terror attack in one of Israel’s cities since the outbreak of fighting in the south, and calls on Israelis to heighten their awareness in coming days.

Terror organizations “have the motivation to find any way to carry out attacks inside cities, certainly large cities, with Tel Aviv one of the most central,” he told reporters after Wednesday’s attack.

Police are sifting through reports that the terrorist behind the bombing escaped, he said. “Our job is to catch such a terrorist if there is one, and if not, to continue to be prepared.”

Danino said that while the Israeli public has been taking precautions against rocket attacks from Gaza, Israelis must take into account the possibility of other kinds of terrorism.

“Don’t forget that there are other threats,” he said. “These are not ordinary days.”

Footage from inside the bus attacked Wednesday shows that it was badly damaged by the blast.

All of its windows were blown out, and many of its purple-colored seats shredded.

The bus is currently being towed away by the bus company, leaving rubble and shattered glass behind on the street.

Bomb squad personnel are picking up fragments and placing them in clear plastic bags.

All the wounded have been evacuated.

The bus that was targeted in a terror attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

 

Passengers on the bus bombed by a Palestinian terrorist on Wednesday used emergency hammers to break windows and escape the vehicle, according to Channel 2.

Twenty-one people were wounded, three seriously. No one was killed.

The bus has been towed away and municipal clean-up crews are already clearing the site with brooms.

Police sappers are sifting through fragments to find traces of the bomb.

 

In what is either a mistake in interpreting the Hebrew reports, or a deliberate attempt at misinformation, Hamas is claiming that three Israelis were killed in the attack.

@AlqassamBrigade

Alqassam Brigades

#Israeli bus exploded near Kirya base in heart of Tel Aviv.3 killed 17 people injured; 10 sustain serious injuries, the rest lightly wounded

On Saturday, the IDF released a video aiming to disprove Hamas claims of damage wreaked upon Israel, and Israeli damage wreaked upon civilians.

Minister Silvan Shalom briefs a group of Jewish activists on the situation in Gaza. He says Israel will consider sending ground forces to the Strip if a truce cannot be agreed to.

“We’re looking for an acceptable proposal,” says Shalom. “We want to bring safety, security and quiet to our people in the south. The people [in the south] tell me, ‘We can stay in the shelters for one month, two months but we want you to stop it forever.’”

“We’re not happy to take this option,” adds the minister, “but if we don’t have any other choice that is what we will do.”

Shalom was speaking to World ORT, a London-based Jewish community group that advocates international cooperation programs and vocational training. For example, it delivers laptops to disadvantaged students living under rocket fire in southern Israel.

The IAF bombed al-Yarmouk soccer stadium in Gaza City within the last several minutes, according to reports. Al Jazeera says that there were at least 10 explosions.

The BBC’s Paul Danahar reports that rockets were being launched into Israel from the stadium grounds.

@pdanahar

Paul Danahar

attack was on football stadium, perhaps because rockets are fired from there

Israel’s ambassador to the US has issued a condemnation of the attack in Tel Aviv:

@AmbassadorOren

Michael B. Oren

I condemn the horrendous bombing attack on a Tel Aviv bus & wish a full & swift recovery to the many wounded. Terror will not defeat us.

The driver of the bus attacked by a Palestinian bomber Wednesday says he did not see the perpetrator.

“I didn’t see anything. Suddenly there was an explosion,” the driver told reporters at Ichilov Medical Center, where he was taken for medical tests. He was not wounded.

The driver identified himself only as Nahum.

He said that from the driver’s seat he could not even tell if the blast came from inside the bus or outside. The bomb was likely placed on the vehicle from the door in the center, not from the front, he said.

He said the bus was not overly full at the time of the explosion.

He helped a wounded female soldier off the bus before he was treated himself, he said.

Raphael Ahren reports: 

The first reactions to the Tel Aviv bus bombing are coming in from the political echelon, and, naturally, they differ, depending on what side of the spectrum they inhabit.

The far right understands the terror attack as a call for a ground invasion into Gaza. Likud MK and Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon says he called Prime Minister Netanyahu and urged him to “declare war on terrorism” — in other words, to intensify Operation Pillar of Defense.

“The time for restraint is over,” Danon says. “It is time for us to initiate ‘Defensive Shield 2′ against the sources of terror in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, just like we did in 2002. At the same time, we must identify and apprehend those within Israel’s borders who cooperate with the terrorists.”

Dov Khenin, an MK for the far-left Hadash party, condemns the attack in Tel Aviv, saying “any deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime.” But in a statement released on Facebook, he seems to blame the government for pursuing a misguided policy to stop terrorism: “It hurts so much to have to again say that wars do not bring security. If we won’t be able to reach a [peace] agreement here, we will slide back to the very dark days.”

AP reports that the pope has joined the chorus of voices calling for a ceasefire in Gaza:

Pope Benedict XVI says he is praying for victims of the conflict between Israel and Gaza militants and gives his encouragement for efforts to obtain a ceasefire and negotiations.

He tells his weekly public audience Wednesday that “hate and violence are not the solution for problems,” receiving applause from pilgrims in the Paul VI auditorium.

Benedict calls on both sides “to make courageous decisions in favor of peace” and end a conflict with “negative repercussions in the entire Middle East.”

A passenger on the bus attacked Wednesday reported that a dark, chubby man wearing a green and yellow sweater got off the bus one stop before the explosion, an eyewitness tells Channel 2 News.

It is unclear if the perpetrator is in police custody.

The eyewitness, a security guard at the nearby Justice Ministry building, rushed to the scene and spoke with one of the passengers before she was taken to hospital. She described the man as “suspicious,” he said, speaking to a crew from Channel 2 News.

The security guard says he passed the information to police.

He says he and other security guards gave first aid to the wounded and put out a fire on the bus with fire extinguishers in the minutes before police arrived.

Like other eyewitnesses, he said he initially believed the explosion was a rocket that had hit Tel Aviv.

Channel 2 reports that the bomb that ripped through the city bus was not large. Initial reports of an additional bomb at the scene are unfounded, according to the station.

Four rockets are fired at Beersheba. One is intercepted by Iron Dome, three fall in open areas.

The road on which a Tel Aviv city bus was bombed hardly two hours ago has just re-opened to traffic.

Well-versed in handling the aftermath of violence, Israel typically cleans up the scene of an attack and allows the resumption of the routine as quickly as possible.

Municipal crews have already cleaned up the glass fragments and rubble left when the explosive device ripped through the bus at noon.

Three Hamas members at a rocket launching site in Khan Younis are killed by an IAF strike in Gaza, Walla reports.