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RETURN TO MADNESS; Israel bus bomb kills 15.

A SUICIDE bomber slaughtered at least 15 people yesterday and shattered two months of uneasy peace in Israel.

Last night, it was feared the death toll could rise further after the bomber blew up a crowded bus in the city of Haifa.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Sofer said: "Once again, the bestial hand of Palestinian terrorism has struck at the heart of Israel."

Sofer claimed that Israeli forces had thwarted almost 100 attempted attacks in the past two months.

The blast ripped off the roof of the bus, which was packed with students from the nearby University of Haifa, strewing wreckage and body parts across the street.

The bomb was loaded with metal shrapnel to cause devastating injuries.

Local media reported it was an unusually large device, containing up to 60kg of explosive.

Israeli police went on alert throughout the country amid warnings more bombs were planned. There was no claim of responsibility for the blast.

It came as Israel's new hardline government pressed ahead with a two- week-old offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza, in which dozens of Palestinians, including some civilians , have been killed.

Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority are also considering reforms, including the appointment of a prime minister to distance the veteran leader from power - one of Israel's key demands.

Suicide bombings are normally followed by a swift Israeli backlash in the Palestinian territories.

But it is believed their hands are tied at the moment, as close ally America wants to keep a lid on troubles in the region with war on Iraq looming.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned "any attack that is targeting civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli".

But he added: "We reject the government finger-pointing that the Authority is responsible."

The blast was the first terror attack in Israel since January 5.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Mar 6, 2003
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