GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip A powerful car bomb packed with nails exploded Wednesday next to a crowded bus in northern Israel, killing two people and injuring 50, hours after Israeli soldiers shot and killed four Palestinians at a checkpoint in the Gaza Strip.
The explosion propelled the bus off the sidewalk and smashed it into a bakery in downtown Hadera, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The blast tore pieces of metal from cars and obliterated storefronts, leaving a trail of charred and twisted debris.
"I saw people wounded in the face, in the chest. There was a lot of blood flowing," one witness told Israel Radio. "I ran toward my car and I came back with a towel to stop the flow of blood."
It was the worst terrorist attack inside Israel since Nov. 2, when a car bomb exploded near the Mahane Yehuda market in central Jerusalem, killing two people. Wednesday's bombing further dampened hopes for a truce between Israelis and Palestinians after seven weeks of violence that has claimed more than 250 lives. It also highlighted a shift in the conflict, which has moved from clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators toward bombings, assassinations and retaliatory airstrikes.
Israel said it ultimately held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for the bus bombing, and vowed to retaliate. Prime Minister Ehud Barak convened his security Cabinet for an emergency meeting late Wednesday night to approve a response. On Monday, Israel launched missiles at Palestinian police, security and media buildings in Gaza after a roadside bombing of a school bus carrying Jewish settlers killed two adults and injured five children.
Earlier in the day, Israeli soldiers riddled two cars with bullets at a roadblock in the Gaza Strip, killing four activists in Arafat's Fatah movement. Those killed included Jamal Abdel Razek, 30, a senior official released last year from an Israeli prison. An army spokesman said Razek had been responsible for more than 40 shootings and roadside bombs targeting Israelis in the southern Gaza area over the past two months.
The four men had been armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and, when they saw that they were about to be stopped at a roadblock, they pulled out their weapons. Soldiers responded by opening fire, the spokesman said.
But Palestinian officials disputed the army's account, and said the group was unarmed and had been ambushed. The windshield of one of the cars was riddled with dozens of bullet holes. Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian security chief in Gaza, called the shooting a "barbaric assassination."