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Posted: 8/31/2004 9:30:44 AM EDT
Looks like the nice Hamas fellas tried to offer a olive branch

They best sleep with one eye open tonight the scum

Israel Bus Bombs Kill at Least 15
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

•Sharon: Evacuate Gaza Settlements Together

BEER SHEBA, Israel — Homicide bombers blew up two buses almost simultaneously in southern Israel on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 80 others in the first Palestinian attack inside Israel in nearly six months.

The twin blasts, claimed by the militant group Hamas (search), were likely to provoke a harsh Israeli response. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) planned to meet with top security officials later Tuesday, his office said.

The buses burst into flames about 100 yards apart near a bustling intersection in Beer Sheba (search), the largest city in southern Israel, just 10 miles from the West Bank. Hamas issued a leaflet in Hebron — the closest Palestinian city to Beer Sheba — saying the attack was avenging Israel's assassinations of two of its leaders earlier this year.

The explosions came just hours after Sharon presented to his Likud party the most detailed timetable yet for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and warned party rebels the plan "will be implemented, period."

After the attacks, Sharon said "the fight against terror will continue full strength." Aides said he would push forward with the pullout.

Rescue workers scoured the scene, cleaning up body parts and scattered pieces of the wreckage as dozens of onlookers gathered nearby. A hand with a ring lay on the ground, and spattered blood covered the walls of the mangled buses.

"People were screaming and yelling. Everybody was running," said witness Tzvika Schreter, a 50-year-old college lecturer.

Police said the messy scene was complicating the recovery of bodies and warned the death toll could rise. They did not know whether the homicide bombers were among the 15 recovered bodies.

Israel's Magen David Adom rescue service said 30 of the wounded were in serious or moderate condition.

In the Gaza Strip, Muslim leaders praised the "heroic operation" — a phrase referring to homicide bombings — over mosque loudspeakers. "There will be no security for Israel as long as the occupation stands," said one of the leaders.

Palestinian militants haven't carried out a major attack inside Israel since March 14, when 11 people were killed in the port of Ashdod. After that attack, Israel assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Hamas has repeatedly pledged it would avenge their deaths, but had taken little action before Tuesday.

Israel has said the lull in violence was due to its success in fighting militants, not a lack of effort by armed Palestinian groups.

Israeli forces have arrested or killed dozens of militants in recent months, operating dozens of roadblocks in the West Bank and placing security guards near busy bus stops in Israeli cities.

Sharon's government also cites its contentious West Bank barrier for keeping attackers out of the country. The barrier, about one-quarter complete, has not reached the area near Hebron.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli army caught a Palestinian man with an explosives belt strapped under his clothing as he tried to cross into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He had waited in line with thousands of Palestinian workers making their way into Israel every morning. Gaza is closed off, and militants have had trouble reaching Israel from there.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) condemned the bombing and called for an immediate cease-fire and resumption of peace talks.

Sharon refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians, accusing them of encouraging the attacks on Israel. Instead, he has called for a unilateral withdrawal next year from the Gaza Strip and four isolated West Bank settlements.

In Jerusalem, a Sharon ally in the Cabinet said the evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza could begin by the end of the year, or several months ahead of schedule.

The initial plan called for a withdrawal from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements in four stages, to be completed by September 2005. Each phase was to be presented to the Cabinet for approval.

With opposition mounting in Likud and in the Cabinet, Sharon is pushing for a swifter withdrawal.

He also hopes to weaken settler resistance by making early advance payments on compensation that would encourage many of the 8,000 Gaza settlers to leave voluntarily, according to Sharon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The prime minister opened Tuesday's meeting with Likud legislators with a warning not to sabotage the withdrawal. "You know my views on the subject. The disengagement plan will be implemented, period," he said.

The first key date in Sharon's timetable is Sept. 14, when the Cabinet is to approve the principles of compensating and evacuating settlers. Officials said advance payments would be authorized at that session.

On Sept. 26, Cabinet ministers will be given draft legislation for carrying out the withdrawal, and the bill will be approved by the Cabinet on Oct. 24, Sharon said. By Nov. 3, the legislation will be presented to parliament for a first of three votes.

On Monday, a heated argument erupted during a session of the Security Cabinet, when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz sought approval for evacuating the 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank in one go, rather than in four stages. The change in tactics angered opponents of the withdrawal.

On Tuesday, Sharon was vague about whether he would stick to his initial promise to withdraw in stages.

Sharon has already lost two Likud battles over his pullout plan — a nonbinding referendum by party members and a convention vote. At least half of the 40 Likud members of parliament oppose the pullout.

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