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Tel Aviv bus blast wounds 17, Israeli airstrikes kill 10 Palestinians

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A bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv on Wednesday wounding several people, as Israeli bombardment killed 10 Palestinians, including a 2-year-old boy, in the eighth day of a bloody offensive on the Gaza Strip.

An Al Arabiya correspondent said at least 17 casualties were reported in the Tel Aviv bus explosion, which Israel described as "terrorist.”

"A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only mild injuries," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman Ofir Gendelman said on his official Twitter account.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri praised the bombing, but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

“Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres...in Gaza,” he told Reuters. “Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression.”

The last time a bomb blast hit Israel’s commercial capital was in April 2006, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people at a sandwich stand near the old central bus station.

Hamas militants have fired at least four rockets at the laid-back Mediterranean metropolis over the past week, but none of them have scored direct hits or caused any casualties.

Ambulances converged on the bus on Wednesday, with television showing smoke rising from the broken windows. The vehicle was not torn apart in the explosion, suggesting it might have been a relatively small bomb.

“We have no indications it was a suicide bomber. But it was an attack,” Tel Aviv police chief Yoram Ohayon told Channel 2 television.
In Gaza, Israel struck more than 100 targets, including a cluster of Hamas government buildings, in attacks that medical officials said killed 10 people, among them a 2-year-old boy.

Israel has carried out more than 1,500 strikes since the offensive began with the killing of a top Hamas commander and with declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching rocket attacks that have long disrupted life in its southern towns.

Medical officials in Gaza said 146 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, including 36 children, have been killed in Israel's offensive. Nearly 1,400 rockets have been fired into Israel, killing four civilians and a soldier, the military said.

Diplomatic efforts

Israel's best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said an emerging outline of a ceasefire agreement called for Egypt to announce a 72-hour ceasefire followed by further talks on long-term understandings.

Under the proposed document, which the newspaper said neither party would be required to sign, Israel would hold its fire, end attacks against top militants and promise to examine ways to ease its blockade of Gaza, controlled by Hamas Islamists who do not recognize the Jewish state's right to exist.

Hamas, the report said, would pledge not to strike any Israeli target and ensure other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip also stop their attacks.

An Israeli political source said differences holding up a deal centered on a Hamas demand to lift the Gaza blockade completely and the kind of activity that would be allowed along the frontier, where Israeli troops often fire into the enclave to keep Palestinians away from an area near a border fence.

Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq said the main stumbling block was "the temporary timeframe for a ceasefire that the Israelis want us to agree to."

"Long-term" solution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he wanted a "long-term" solution. Failing that, Netanyahu made clear, that he stood ready to step up the military campaign to silence Hamas' rockets.

"A band-aid solution will only cause another round of violence," said Ofir Gendelman, a Netanyahu spokesman.

Along the Gaza border, Israeli tanks, artillery and infantry remained poised for a possible ground offensive in the densely populated enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians.

But an invasion, likely to entail heavy casualties, would be a major political risk for Netanyahu, who is currently favored to win the upcoming Israeli election. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel's three-week war in the Gaza Strip in 2008-9, prompting international criticism of Israel.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Clinton held talks with Palestinian President Abbas, reiterating U.S. opposition to his bid to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the United Nations. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington believed "the best way to achieve statehood is through direct bilateral negotiations". Those talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

"Secretary Clinton informed the president that the U.S administration is exerting every possible effort to reach an immediate ceasefire and the president expressed his full support for this endeavour," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

"Once the Israelis accept to stop their bombardments, their assassinations, there will be a comprehensive ceasefire sustained from all parties," Erekat said.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of Cairo's mediation told Reuters that Egyptian intelligence officials would hold further discussions on Wednesday with leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.