At least 16 Israelis were killed and 35 others wounded, ten of them seriously, when an explosion rocked an Egged bus near the Megiddo junction. The crowded bus, which left Tel Aviv early Wednesday morning on its way to Tiberias, went up in flames, making evacuation of the wounded difficult. Police officials say a car laden with a large quantity of explosives, was detonated alongside the bus.
Israel's security cabinet met this morning to discuss Israel's response to the terrorist attack. The meeting was originally called to discuss warnings of Hizbullah attacks along Israel's northern border. Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof quoted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as having asked the cabinet to show restraint in the wake of the attack, Army Radio reported afterwards. Minister without portfolio Effi Eitam urged tough action, including reoccupying all of Area A until terrorist infrastructures there were totally destroyed.
Following the bombing, Police went on high alert throughout northern Israel and in the Sharon region due to the fear of additional attacks.
The explosion occurred alongside an Egged 830 line bus at 7:15 a.m. on Highway 65, some fifty meters from the Megiddo junction between Umm el-Fahm and Afula. The junction is about fifteen kilometers north of Jenin, and there have been a number of terrorist attacks previously on buses traveling along the highway. A suicide bomber was seriously injured on May 8 at the junction when his explosive belt exploded prematurely.
"The scene is very serious, this is an incident with a very large number of casualties," said northern Israeli police commander Yaakov Borovsky. "A car bomb affixed itself to a bus, and the result was very, very serious."
A spokesman for Egged said that the bus was crowded with soldiers on their way to base at the time of the attack.
"I was with my father. We had just stopped at the junction on the way to the Wadi Ara road," said eyewitness Ogen Drori. "We saw the bus shoot up in flames, and there was a huge explosion. We hit the gas and sped ahead. Then we stopped on the side and ran to the site. We saw dozens of injured and bodies lying near the bus, which was burning. We pulled the injured away. There were no cries for help. There was total silence."
"I saw soldiers crying and screaming for help," said another eyewitness, Avichai Azoulay. "We were helpless. We didn't know what we could do for them. I have never seen such a shocking sight in my life."
The military wing of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing attack. " The Jerusalem Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, announced its responsibility for this...operation in a phone call to Al Manar," the Lebanese-based Hizbullah television station reported.
The organization said that the bombing was staged today to mark the start of the Six Day War in 1967. A police official said that the location of the attack was intended to show solidarity with the security prisoners being held in Megiddo prison.
Ellis Shuman Israelinsider