MIDDLE EAST Blasts on 2 buses kill at least 12 in Israel
Palestinians haven't carried out a major attack in Israel since March 14.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Two buses exploded almost simultaneously in southern Israel today, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 44 in the first major Palestinian attack inside Israel in nearly six months, rescue officials said.
Israel's Channel Two television said the blasts were carried out by Palestinian suicide bombers, but the report could not immediately be confirmed. TV reports said two mangled bodies were found -- presumably those of the bombers.
The twin bus blasts came hours after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented to his Likud party the most detailed timetable yet for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and warned party rebels the plan "will be implemented, period."
The buses burst into flames in the center of Beersheba, the largest city in southern Israel, 25 miles west of Gaza City. Israel TV showed the two burned-out buses, flames shooting through the roof of one of them. At least two bodies, covered in white sheets, lay on the ground.
Israel's Magen David Adom rescue service gave the casualty toll and said 20 of the wounded were in serious condition. It was not clear whether the 12 dead included suicide bombers. The rescue service initially said 11 people were killed.
Hezbollah's al-Manar television station in Lebanon quoted Palestinian sources as saying they had carried out "martyrdom operations," a phrase used to describe suicide bombings. Israeli officials accuse the Lebanese guerrilla group of aiding Palestinian militants.
In the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon, gunmen fired shots into the air to celebrate the attacks, a Palestinian official said.
Palestinian militants haven't carried out a major attack inside Israel since March 14, when 11 people were killed in the port of Ashdod. That attack prompted Israel to assassinate the spiritual leader of the Hamas militant group in the Gaza.
Israel has said the lull was due to its success in fighting militants, not a lack of effort by the armed groups. Israel has arrested or killed dozens of militants in recent months. Israel also says its contentious West Bank barrier has prevented numerous attacks. The barrier, about one-quarter complete, has not reached the area near Hebron, the closest Palestinian city to Beersheba.