Published July 11, 2004
TEL AVIV, Israel – Palestinian militants set off explosives hidden in shrubs at a Tel Aviv (search) bus stop Sunday, killing a female soldier and seriously wounding at least five people in the first deadly bombing in Israel since March.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), meanwhile, ordered construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier to continue, rejecting last week's world court ruling that the system of fences, trenches and walls is illegal and must be dismantled.
Sharon said the non-binding ruling by the International Court of Justice (search) at The Hague, Netherlands, was one-sided and encouraged Sunday's bombing. Israel argues the barrier is needed to block Palestinian attackers from entering the country.
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity after a Cabinet meeting, said officials would delay seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting the court decision until after the U.S. presidential election.
The Bush administration has vetoed several Palestinian-backed resolutions and opposed world court intervention in the barrier dispute.
In Sunday's attack, a five-pound bomb filled with sharp pieces of metal was detonated early Sunday as a bus pulled up at a stop near Tel Aviv's central bus station.
Bus driver Eyal Gazit said he initially thought the bomb was on his bus.
"Suddenly a large boom, a cloud of black and all the bus was covered ... the windows blew out," he told Israel's Army Radio. "There were screams...the passengers were jumping over each other trying to escape from the bus."
A 19-year-old female soldier was killed, the army said. Police said 32 people were hurt. Hospital officials said five people suffered serious injuries, with the remainder treated for shock or light wounds.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Palestinian group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility, saying it was avenging the deaths of members killed by Israel. "This says that we can reach every place, even when there is a fence," said an Al Aqsa spokesman in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinian officials condemned the attack. "We are against all bombings like this," said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Sharon met Sunday with senior Cabinet ministers, security officials and the attorney general to discuss the fallout from the world court ruling. Sharon ordered construction of the barrier to continue, his office said in a statement.
The prime minister also decided to fight the court decision with "all diplomatic and legal means," the statement said.
Israel does not recognize the court's jurisdiction in the case, and has asked the United States to block U.N. action.
Washington often has used its veto in the Security Council to block resolutions critical of Israel. U.S. officials have said they disagree with the world court on the issue and that they believe no further U.N. action is necessary.
"The murderous act this morning is the first that occurred with the endorsement of the decision of the world court at the Hague," Sharon told the Israeli Cabinet. "The decision sends a destructive message to encourage the terror and denounces countries that are defending themselves against it."
The court ruled that the barrier violates international law. The judges said construction should halt, the barrier should come down, and Israel should compensate Palestinians for their losses.
Israel has completed about one-fourth of the planned 425-mile structure. Israeli officials have cited construction of the barrier as a key reason for a relative lull in attacks by Palestinian militants. Sunday's blast was the first one to kill people in Israel since a March 14 suicide bombing in port city of Ashdod.
The Palestinians plan to seek support in the U.N. General Assembly, but the emerging consensus at Sunday's Cabinet meeting was to hold off on seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution. The 15-member Security Council could demand enforcement of the ruling.
"The decision now is for the General Assembly to decide what the coming step is," said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. "As for us, we will continue to battle."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday urged Israel to respect the court decision, which is to be discussed at the United Nations this week.
"Whilst we all accept the government of Israel has a responsibility, and indeed the duty to protect its citizens, any action it takes has to be in conformity with international law," Annan said during a visit to Thailand.