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Palestinian bomber kills children on way to school

There was a blast, blood and screams, then a father, Yossi Turgemann, ran from his house and climbed into the carnage of the bus looking for his daughter.

He knew she had on boots with big platform soles. He called his wife from the bus. A dead girl was wearing black boots. Could this be her? No, his wife said, the boots are tan.

Hours of uncertainty pass in suicide bombings _ in the now calibrated chaos of speedy paramedics, hospitals, the morgue _ but never more so than when children are on the bus.

And on Thursday morning, at least four of the 11 who died on the No. 20 bus were children on their way to school. Hospital officials said half of the roughly 50 wounded were under 18 years old, in a bus that also carried several young soldiers.

The Turgemanns learned quickly that their daughter, Zohar, 13, survived. But her friend, Hodaya Asaraf, also 13, who stepped on the bus a few seconds earlier, did not.

"I was always afraid to send my children to the city center, to the malls," Zohar's mother, Ronit, 37, said in the hospital, almost clawing at her living daughter, who was only slightly wounded. "But now the fear is right here, under your nose."

Maybe he was in shock, or maybe suicide bombings have become too routine, but another young survivor, Tidhar Shai, 16, tried to leave his hospital bed, grabbing for his shoes not long after he was admitted with light freckles of wounds from shrapnel on his face.

"I have to get to school," he said. "I have a test."

The bombing Thursday in the southwestern neighborhood of Kiryat Menachem drew comparisons to one of the last serious suicide bombings in Jerusalem: the blast on June 18 aboard a bus in nearby Gilo, another morning rush-hour attack in a residential neighborhood in which schoolchildren died.

That bombing prompted Israel to send its military to reoccupy the West Bank.

This time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israeli forces to return to Bethlehem to hunt down those responsible. Early today, Israeli forces surrounded the Dheisheh refugee camp next to the biblical town.

Troops also headed for Manger Square to cut off the Church of the Nativity, which marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus, said Israeli military spokesman Doron Spielman. He said the object was to prevent gunmen from seeking refuge in the church.

Through a spokesman, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, condemned Thursday's bombing as terrorism. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant Islamic groups, issued dueling claims of responsibility for the attack, in their continuing competition to be seen as killing the most Israelis.

Israelis were angry Thursday at an attack that ended almost four months without a major bombing inside Jerusalem.

"We lived for the last few months with the hope that things would quiet down," Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, told reporters on Mexico Street, a hillside lane in one of the city's poorer districts, where the bus exploded. "At the same time, we didn't fool ourselves this would last much longer."

He spoke as forensics workers drew back blankets to photograph the dead still on the blood-streaked bus.

This was the result of a lone suicide bomber, identified later as Nael Abu Hilail, a 23-year-old living in the nearby Palestinian city of Bethlehem. The bus was crowded, and he did not attract attention as he walked into the middle of the vehicle wearing a hidden explosive belt _ not even from the driver.

"I didn't see anything suspicious," Shai Herzl, a bus driver for 24 years, said from his hospital bed. "A passenger got in who blew himself up."

A young woman who lives in a concrete apartment block across the street said she heard a boom then felt the floor beneath her buckle. Thin seams opened up on the street. The explosion was powerful enough to blow out nearly every window in the bus. Ball bearings and screws blasted out from Hilail and, judging from the burns on some bodies, a doctor said a fire must also have broken out.

"It was like a jungle of smoke and fire and blood," said Avi Tutyan, 24, a student at Hebrew University and a passenger on the bus. "It's a miracle I'm alive."

Yitzhak Cohen, 55, who was sitting across from the driver, said: "Everything fell in on me. It felt like a ton."

By early afternoon, mourners lighted several dozen memorial candles and threaded flowers in the side of a bus shelter on Mexico Street. Girls cried and hugged one another, talking about friends who died or were hurt. Liraz Turgemann, 13, no relation to the injured girl, bent down to pick up a small screw, apparently a bit of shrapnel.

"They do this against children," said Liraz, whose 20-year-old sister, Sari, was injured on the bus. "If they did it at 10 o'clock, it would be people going downtown to shop. But at this hour, it is kids on the bus."

By late afternoon along the bus line, white posters with black Hebrew letters began to appear on posts and walls announcing funerals. One was for Dikla Zino, 23, the oldest of five children, who was on her way Thursday morning to her job as a legal secretary.

At their apartment house, Zino family members spilled out the door, crying and drinking tea.

"She missed the bus and ran after it," said one relative, who would only give her first name, Yardena. "The driver stopped for her especially. That is fate."

The boys talked about revenge. "You have to kill them," said Shoham El Maliah, 13, who said he saw his now-dead neighbor, Yafit Revivo, board the bus on Thursday morning on her way to school. "They are terrorists."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.