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Israelis Mourn 11 Killed in Bus Bombing

A 13-year-old Israeli girl who loved to draw was buried at sunset Thursday on a Jerusalem hilltop, one of 11 people killed when a Palestinian man blew himself up on a crowded bus. Four of the dead were children.

It was the first attack in Jerusalem since August, and the bomber's hometown — Bethlehem — braced for retaliation that began early Friday as Israeli troops moved into the city, surrounding the Church of the Nativity, which marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Israeli military spokesman Doron Spielman said the object was to prevent gunmen from seeking refuge in the church.

Hours earlier, the army ordered residents of about 30 homes in el-Khader, on the outskirts of Bethlehem, to leave their homes so the army could take up positions, residents said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who met with his defense minister and other officials, decided the army would carry out a "pinpoint operation," which would include entering Bethlehem, Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said.

Two militant Islamic groups claimed responsibility for Thursday morning's bomb attack: Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Gissin said Hamas would be the group targeted.

Hamas participated in talks with Egypt and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement to negotiate a freeze on Palestinian attacks at least until Israel's Jan. 28 election. A first round of talks in Cairo ended inconclusively.

A continuation of bombings and shootings would strengthen Israel's right-wing parties going into the elections.

Among the dead were four children: two 13-year-olds, an 8-year-old boy who died along with his grandmother, and a 16-year-old boy whose mother also was killed.

Hodaya Asaraf, an 8th grader at a Jerusalem arts school, was the first to be buried. Shortly after sunset, the 13-year-old was laid to rest at a hilltop cemetery amid the wails of her mother.

"Her friends said the last thing she drew were leaves," said a teacher, Chena Ben-Yaakov. "The leaf has fallen."

Passengers and police said the bomber boarded bus No. 20 and detonated the explosives belt at about 7:10 a.m., as the bus was stopped in Jerusalem's Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, police said.

The blast blew out the bus windows and sent glass shards and body parts flying. Hours later, a man's arms dangled from a broken bus window and a torso was covered with a blue and white checkered blanket.

Maor Kimche, 15, was among those on the bus, which was jammed with high school students, soldiers and the elderly.

"Suddenly, it was black and smoky. There were people on the floor. Everything was bloody. There was glass everywhere and body parts," Kimche said.

The 10th grader jumped out of a bus window and was scooped up by a taxi driver who took him to Hadassah Hospital, where he was treated for a leg injury.

He said he'd ride buses again. "How else will I get to school?" he asked.

Eleven people were killed and at least 48 wounded, eight of them seriously. Israel Radio said many of the casualties were students, though hospital officials declined to give a breakdown.

Israeli police identified the bomber as Nael Abu Hilail, 23.

Abu Hilail's father, Azmi, said he was pleased with his son. "Our religion says we are proud of him until the day of resurrection," Abu Hilail said. "This is a challenge to the Zionist enemies."

He said Israeli troops had arrested another son and a nephew after the bombing.

Several of Nael Abu Hilail's friends said he was a supporter of Islamic Jihad.

President Bush condemned the bombing, saying the goal of the United States is to see two independent states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the attack "utterly reprehensible" and appealed to Palestinians and Israelis not to be blinded by hate.

Sharon adviser Gissin accused the Palestinian Authority of assisting the attackers and said that with such violence, it seemed futile to bring about a limited truce and withdraw from some Palestinian areas.

"All our efforts to hand over areas .... and all the talk about a possible cease-fire, that was all window dressing because on the ground there was a continuous effort to carry out as many terrorist activities (as possible)," Gissin said.

There was no official comment from the Palestinian Authority, but Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian labor minister, accused Israel of provoking the attacks with strikes against militants.

The Israeli army has enforced stringent travel restrictions on Palestinians in the past 26 months of fighting, and has reoccupied most West Bank towns in an attempt to stop the attacks. However, Israeli security officials say they continue to receive dozens of warnings every day about planned attacks.

Israel's range of responses is restricted by the possibility of a U.S. strike against Iraq.

Several Israeli hard-line leaders have called for Arafat's expulsion in retaliation for bombings, but such a step is sharply opposed by Washington, which is eager to maintain the support of moderate Arab governments at a time of confrontation with Iraq.

Israel's new Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, repeated his pledge that if elected prime minister, he would fight terror, but would also disengage from the Palestinian territories. Mitzna has said he would pull settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and would restart negotiations with the Palestinians unconditionally.

"It's very hard, to stand on this stage when those killed by terror are being buried," he told a Labor Party conference. "It is natural that a person feels revenge, hate, to hurt them, but we, a chosen leadership, must look past the horizon and offer Israeli citizens another reality."

Palestinian leaders have welcomed Mitzna's call although they have stopped short of endorsing him, apparently for fear of hurting Mitzna's chances.