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16 killed in bus bomb attacks; Injury toll over 100.

Byline: LIAM CHRISTOPHER

PALESTINIAN suicide bombers on a revenge mission blew up two buses seconds apart in southern Israel today, killing at least 16 passengers and wounding more than 100.

It was the first suicide bombing inside Israel for six months. It was claimed by militant group Hamas as vengeance for the assassination of their spiritual leader.

The explosions ended a period of relative calm. Israel attributed the lull to its crackdown on Palestinian militants and continued construction of its separation barrier in the West Bank. Palestinian militants have acknowledged increasing difficulties carrying out attacks.

The two buses blew up 15 seconds apart, about 100 yards from a busy intersection in the centre of Beersheba. ``People were screaming and yelling. Everybody was running, '' said witness Tzika Schreter, a college lecturer.

The blasts came hours after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented to his Likud party the most detailed plan yet for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. It warned party rebels the plan ``willbe implemented, period''. Sharon met top security officials to plan a response. Israel has historically struck hard at militant targets after suicide bombings. ``Israel will continue fighting terror with all its might, '' Sharon said, pledging to push forward with the Gaza pull-out.

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

Authorities stepped up security throughout Beersheba after the attacks, placing checkpoints on major roads and snarling traffic in and out of the city.

In Gaza, Muslim leaders praised the ``heroic operation'' over mosque loudspeakers.

The attack was the deadliest since a female suicide bomber killed 21 people nearly a year ago in the northern city of Haifa.

Militants hadn't carried out a major attack in Israel since March 14, when 11 people were killed in Ashdod. It prompted Israel to assassinate Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

CAPTION(S):

A rescuer carries an injured woman; Police and rescue workers examine one of destroyed buses
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:333
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