By Matthew Bell
A bomb attack in central Jerusalem today killed a 60 year-old woman and injured at least 30 other people, three of them critically. Israeli police said it was the first major terrorist attack in the city since 2004. Israel's top security official blamed Palestinian militants.
President Obama issued a statement condemning the bombing saying, "[t]here is never any possible justification for terrorism."
The US-supported Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also condemned the deadly bombing. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said, "I resolutely denounce this terrorist attack no matter who stands behind it."
The explosion occurred near Jerusalem's central bus station at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. It's a busy part of town, where the main highway enters the city. Late afternoon is the start of the rush hour, with lots of car and bus traffic, and people moving about on foot.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said a bag containing a bomb was placed on the sidewalk near a crowd of people getting on and off two city buses.
"Since the initial attack took place, we've heightened security in Jerusalem in order to prevent any future attacks," Rosenfeld said. "We're also searching for the possibility of a suspect that left the area."
Police said they received a call from a merchant nearby about an abandoned bag near the bus station. During the emergency call was when the bomb went off.
The explosive device contained shrapnel that caused many injuries and shattered windows in the bus nearby. Police said the attack would have been more devastating had the bomb gone off inside a crowded bus.
Uri Shacham is a medic with Magen David Adom, Israel's emergency service. He said paramedics arrived at the scene to find panic.
"At first, people didn't know what to do," Shachem said. But medics "calmed everyone down and evacuated all the injured people very rapidly to the hospitals in Jerusalem."
Another paramedic, Yuval Yirmiyahu, said he has seen the aftermath of quite a few terrorist attacks in Jerusalem during his career, but not in a long, long time. He said he and his colleagues ran from their office nearby, and they got to the bus station right after the blast.
"The first thing I saw, it's a lot of yelling, a lot of people yelling and running," Yirmihahu said. "There were a few people laying down who badly injured."
Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat surveyed the damage from today's bombing. He wished those injured a speedy recovery and called on residents of Jerusalem to be extra vigilant. Barkat said this was a cowardly act of terror that won't disrupt normal life here.
"The key is to move on," Barkat said. "Continue with our normal life, normal plans. This alone will decrease the motivation of people that are trying to derail our normal life. They will not be successful in doing so."
Jerusalem was hit by a string of bombings on buses and in restaurants during the second Palestinian intifada that began in 2000. But the last bus bombing happened here back in 2004.
In recent years, security in Jerusalem has been tight and things have been relatively quiet. Today's bombing will surly bring back bad memories for many Israelis of the bad old days when terrorist attacks happened on an almost weekly basis.