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Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Israel tightens travel after eight killed in bus attack

February 15, 2001

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— Authorities tightened Israel's blockade of Palestinian territories Wednesday and vowed tough punishment after a Palestinian driver mowed through a crowd of Israeli soldiers and commuters at a bus stop, killing eight people and wounding more than 20.

The attack near Tel Aviv was the single deadliest on Israelis in nearly four years and heightened pressure on the incoming government of Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon to stop the bloodshed convulsing the region violence that has escalated since Sharon's election last week.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat denounced violence generally but dismissed Wednesday's attack as a traffic accident, while other Palestinian officials said it was a "natural" response to Israel's "aggression" against their people.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak deplored the attack as "abominable" and barred Palestinian officials from Israel while weighing retaliation. Israel blamed what it described as a clear act of terrorism on a climate of hatred and incitement fomented by Arafat and other Palestinian leaders.

The driver, Khalil abu Olbeh, 35, is a father of five from the Gaza Strip who had been cleared by Israeli security agencies to work in Israel. His family said he was despondent over the killings of Palestinians and his own financial hardships since the collapse of the Palestinian economy, which has been dealt punishing sanctions by Israel during the past 4 1/2 months of violence.

President Bush urged calm and an end to violence. His secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, is scheduled next week to visit Israel and Gaza.

The dead soldiers three men and four women ranged in age from 18 to 21. The eighth fatality was a 30-year-old civilian woman. Earlier reports had put the number of dead at nine.

On Wednesday morning, Abu Olbeh drove an Israeli bus full of Palestinian workers from Gaza to the Tel Aviv area, dropped them off, then drove to an intersection near the town of Azur, where huge crowds of soldiers and civilians waited for buses.

Witnesses said the bus slowed, then jumped the curb and roared into the crowd.

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