Israelis killed in bus attack
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A bus driven by a Palestinian has plowed into a group of Israeli military and civilians killing eight people and injuring 19 others, including three seriously.
Israeli police said they were investigating whether the incident was deliberate or an accident but Prime Minster-elect Ariel Sharon said it was a "serious attack."
The driver sped from the scene, but crashed into a truck on the side of a main highway about 20 kilometers away when police opened fire on him during a high-speed chase.
He was in a moderate condition after being injured.
The incident happened shortly before 8am local time (0600 GMT) Wednesday at a busy bus stop on a main road in the town of Azur, south of Tel Aviv.
"We are speaking of a serious terrorist attack with a lot of wounded and dead," said Yossi Sitbom, chief of police in Tel Aviv.
The 35-year-old Palestinian driver had a permit to drive the bus and had dropped off Palestinians passengers from Gaza shortly before he rammed into the group around the bus stop, police said.
The driver had worked for Israeli-owned bus company Egged for five years and had been cleared to drive into Israel by Israeli security authorities, company spokesman Ron Rattner said.
Police said there were no explosives on board the bus.
Several bodies covered by blankets lay by the roadside at the bus stop, as paramedics led away dazed survivors.
Shoes, jackets, backpacks and other personal belongings were strewn across the sidewalk.
"The bus was moving slowly and suddenly it speeded up and drove into the soldiers," said Ayelet Cohen-Natan, a bystander.
"One of them was thrown up into a tree and fell to the ground ... I saw dead people with arms, legs and heads cut open. It was terrible."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's bus attack.
Israeli Police Chief Shlomo Aharonishky told Israel Radio: "We understood fairly quickly that apparently we are speaking of an attack."
Prime Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack, saying it was an "abominable crime against innocent residents on their way to work and soldiers on their way to their bases."
Israel had sealed the Palestinian areas for most of the past months, but in recent weeks had eased the closure slightly, allowing several thousand Palestinian workers to return to jobs in Israel.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the policy of allowing Palestinians to work in Israel could be reviewed following the deaths.
"It was not an accident at all. It was an attempt to destroy all chances of resumed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue," he told CNN's Jerrold Kessel.
"We will continue to chase those who mastermind and organize this kind of attack."
He said the restrictions on Palestinians were justified but said "we will check thoroughly the screening of drivers."
Sneh doubted whether Israel would seal Gaza further.
"I don't think in the long-term that it is in our favour to keep Gaza tightly closed."
The deaths brought to about 400 the number of people killed in nearly five months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, including more than 320 Palestinians and nearly 50 Israeli Jews.
The incident comes a day after a deadly Israeli helicopter mission inside Gaza.
Palestinian police said that Massoud Ayyad, 60, died when Israeli helicopter gunships fired four missiles into his car as he drove on the outskirts of the Jabaliya refugee camp.
Ayyad, a lieutenant colonel in Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's bodyguard unit, Force 17, was the sole occupant of that car, but four men in a car behind him were slightly injured in the attack.
Air attack amid Mideast coalition hope
United Nations Human Rights Website
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