Eight die in bloodiest attack in Israel in years

Thursday, February 15, 2001 at 12:00am

AZUR, Israel (Reuters) - A Palestinian driver smashed a bus into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and commuters at a bus stop yesterday, killing at least eight people in the bloodiest attack in Israel in almost four years.

Seven soldiers were among the dead and at least 17 other people were hurt as the bus hurled bodies into the air and left them strewn across the pavement in Azur, south of Tel Aviv, before speeding away. Onlookers later shouted ``Death to Arabs.''

An army spokesman said four women soldiers, three male soldiers and one civilian died.

Israel tightened a blockade of Palestinian areas in response to the attack and President Bush, showing increasing alarm at the rising bloodshed, issued an appeal for an end to the ``tragic cycle of violent action.''

The incident, one of the deadliest since the start of a Palestinian uprising in late September, followed an Israeli helicopter strike that killed a member of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's security unit in Gaza Tuesday.

Arafat stopped short of condemning the bus attack during a visit to Ankara, but a senior aide, Nabil Shaath, told Reuters: ''We condemn that act whether it was an accident or not.''

The Palestinian leader's refusal to condemn the attack angered Israeli officials, who said the Palestinian Authority was partly responsible because it had failed to prevent such violence. Arafat blamed it on the ``Israeli military escalation.''

Violence has risen sharply since Ariel Sharon, whom Arabs consider a war criminal for orchestrating the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, was elected prime minister last week and started preparations to form a government and take power.

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