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Jerusalem hit by bus stop bomber

A bomb has exploded at a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem, killing one woman and wounding more than 20 others in the first major militant attack in the city in years.

The bombing brought back memories of the second Palestinian uprising last decade, when hundreds of Israelis were killed by suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other major cities.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Israeli police blamed Palestinian militants. The attack came against the backdrop of a rising wave of violence that has threatened to upset more than two years of relative calm since an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this month five members of a Jewish settler family were knifed to death in their sleep at their West Bank home. And in recent days, Israel has carried out reprisals in Gaza in retaliation for rocket and mortar fire launched into southern Israel. On Tuesday a wayward Israeli strike meant for Palestinian militants killed four members of a Palestinian family in Gaza.

Adding to the tensions, peace efforts with Hamas' rival, the Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank, have been stalled for months. Palestinian leaders condemned the attack.

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel would retaliate against Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. At least three rockets landed in the southern city of Beersheba on Monday, and mortar shells were landing in southern Israel late in the afternoon.

The bomb was near the main entrance to Jerusalem, next to the city's central bus station and convention centre, an area that is crowded with travellers and passers-by.

The blast reverberated throughout Jerusalem and blew out the windows of two crowded buses.

Jerusalem's police chief, Aharon Franco, said that the bomb was planted in a small bag on the pavement.

The Palestinians are divided between two rival governments, the Hamas regime in Gaza and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The West Bank government seeks peace with Israel, although talks broke down last September.

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