Sharona Schwartz reports from Israel for TheBlaze.
A large explosion took place on a bus in central Tel Aviv Wednesday. Hamas in Gaza claimed responsibility for the attack it says was carried out by a suicide bomber, reports the Times of Israel, though Israeli police officials said they did not find the body of a terrorist on the bus. A journalist for Israel Channel 2 quotes his sources in Ramallah reporting Palestinians there celebrated the news and some handed out candy, while another reporter for the Israeli network said the response on the street in Gaza was “ecstatic.”
The BBC’s Gaza reporter Rushdi Abualouf wrote via Twitter that Hamas celebrated as an achievement the Tel Aviv bombing over mosque loudspeakers.
You can witness the aftermath in our slideshow of the incident below:
Israel’s Channel 2 initially quoted police sources who said they arrested two individuals suspected of involvement in the attack, but security officials later told Israel Army Radio that no suspect was in custody by Wednesday afternoon. One man who was arrested at the “Boursa” Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is now believed to be psychologically unstable and is not being considered a suspect at this time, reports Channel 2 News police correspondent Moshe Nussbaum.
The explosion took place at the corner of King Saul Street and Weitzman Street. An eyewitness tells Army Radio the bus was not full at the time. Avi Mayer who works for the Jewish Agency writes, “A friend who was at the scene of the Tel Aviv bus bombing reports ‘glass all over, screams, a burnt smell, blood all over the place.’”
The Magen David Adom rescue services say ten passengers were injured, of them hospital sources say one sustained heavy wounds, two moderate and the rest lightly from the explosion that took place around noon local. A local hospital says 17 arrived in the emergency room, some of them suffering from psychological trauma.
The White House quickly condemned the bus bombing, calling attacks on innocent civilians “outrageous”:
The United States condemns today’s terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those injured, and with the people of Israel. These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous. The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. The United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Israel Wednesday meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials to try to secure a ceasefire, which so far seems elusive. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is also on the ground, and released his own condemnation of the bus attack:
“The Secretary-General was shocked at the news of the terror attack on a bus today in the center of Tel Aviv. He condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. There are no circumstances that justify the targeting of civilians. The Secretary-General is saddened and expresses his sympathy to those injured in the blast.”
While details are still sketchy, Israel Channel 2 reports that police are investigating if the terrorist threw the bomb onto the bus and ran away. Contrary to that report, one eyewitness told Channel 2 that passengers told police a suspicious man got off the bus one stop before the explosion took place.Tel Aviv Police Chief Aharon Axel says “We are combing the area.”
Police are trying to determine whether the bomber came from Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem. With ongoing hostilities, the Gaza possibility would seem less likely.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington writes: “Just unlikely that the attack originated in Gaza, given distance from TA [Tel Aviv] and the barrier. The West Bank barrier more porous.” He warns that if the attack originated in the West Bank, it could portend the opening of a second front from the West Bank as Israel continues to battle Gaza terrorists.
Many rescue vehicles including fire trucks and ambulances arrived quickly on the scene. The explosion took place very close to Ichilov Hospital and to the IDF headquarters, also known as the “Kirya.” Police protectively closed the Azrieli Center, one of the country’s largest malls situated in a three-building skyscraper complex.
An eyewitness told Israel’s Army Radio he saw white smoke that rose about 15 yards high.
Reporters on site said the bus’ windows were blown out, and that the numbers blew off so that they couldn’t inform worried listeners which bus line was hit.
A police spokesman told Army Radio “We are pursuing a number of investigative directions,” while an Army Radio correspondent reported her sources said no body of a suicide bomber was found on the bus.
Police cordoned off the area to look for any secondary bombs as has been terrorists’ modus operandi in past attacks.
An eyewitness said he at first thought the explosion was an incoming missile: “We heard a horrible sound.” “There is a deep fear the terrorist who planted the bomb got away.”
According to the BBC which is monitoring the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV station, Hamas released this statement: “Hamas welcomes the martyrdom operation and stresses that it is a natural response to the massacring of the Al-Dalu family and the targeting of Palestinian citizens.”
Eight members of the Al-Dalu family were killed earlier this week in an Israeli air strike. The IDF said it is investigating what it’s calling a mistaken bombing that had been intended for a man “in charge of rocket launching” from the neighborhood.
TheBlaze will continue to update this post as more information comes in, including reactions from the Israeli and U.S. governments.