Suicide bombers blew up two Israeli buses in the southern city of Beersheba, killing themselves and leaving at least 12 people dead and 84 injured, Israel's rescue service said. The blasts were the first such attacks in five months.
"There were at least 14 bodies, including the two terrorists," Yehuda Shoshan, a regional director of the Magen David Adom rescue service, said by telephone from Beersheba. Israel Channel 2 television reported the death toll has reached 15 with as many as 98 people wounded, reports Bloomberg.
Thousands of Hamas supporters celebrated in Gaza, singing and throwing sweets in the air after bombings which the group said were to avenge Israel's assassination of two top leaders after the last suicide bombing nearly 6 months ago.
The bombers boarded buses at the same stop near Beersheba's central bus station and detonated hidden explosive belts when the vehicles were just a few dozen meters (yards) apart, gutting the buses and scattering bloody remains.
"The bus simply blew up. It just blew up in front of my eyes," said motorist Joey Harel.
The bombers had come from the nearby West Bank city of Hebron, in an area where Israel's West Bank barrier is not yet complete. Israeli officials said that underlined the urgency of finishing its construction to keep out attackers, informs Reuters.
According to the Guardian, the State Department brushed aside statements by the Palestinian leader condemning bloody suicide bombings in southern Israel and said Hamas must be put out of business.
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "It's not a question of words. It is a question of actions, actions that send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated."
Boucher again denounced the Palestinian group Hamas, which is often described simply as a militant organization. "We see Hamas as a terrorist organization. We say terrorist organizations need to be put out of business."
Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned the bombing of the two buses that killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 80 others in a telephone call to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Powell also offered his condolences, Boucher said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush had been briefed on the attack.
"We condemn these kind of terrorist attacks in the strongest possible terms. There's simply no justification for the killing of innocent civilians," McClellan said.
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