In the first major attack inside Israel in nearly six months, Palestinian suicide bombers blew up two buses almost simultaneously in the southern city of Beersheba Tuesday, killing at least 16 passengers and wounding more than 80. The explosions, which the Hamas militant group claimed responsibility for—ended a period of relative calm.
According to the Associated Press, the two buses blew up 15 seconds apart, about 100 yards from a busy intersection in the center of Beersheba just before 3 p.m. local time.
"People were screaming and yelling. Everybody was running," said witness Tzika Schreter, a 50-year-old college lecturer.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), which released a statement on the bombings, reported that "Rescue services called on all regional ambulances to come to the scene and have confirmed 'many casualties'."
Up to 80 people were believed to have been wounded, many of them critically. Police said the messy scene was complicating the recovery of bodies and warned the death toll could rise. They said the 16 people did not include the bombers.
ICEJ News Service quoted Israeli officials as saying that they suspect the militant group Hamas was behind the attack, and that they believe it was coordinated by Ibrahim Hamed, a relative of Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashal. The Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told reporters however that "the Palestinian Authority condemns any attacks that target civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinian."
"Israel will continue fighting terror with all its might," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, adding that he would push forward with the Gaza pullout.
The attack was the deadliest since a female suicide bomber killed 21 people nearly a year ago in the northern city of Haifa. Militants hadn't carried out a suicide bombing in Israel since March 14, when 11 people were killed in the port of Ashdod.