A Jerusalem bus exploded on Monday evening at a major junction in the city, igniting another bus and injuring 21 people, two of them seriously, in a possible terror attack.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that the blast was caused by an explosive device on the first bus, and that a police investigation was underway to determine whether it was an act of terrorism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “settle the score” with those responsible. Hamas and Islamic Jihad both praised the explosion, though neither took responsibility, according to news reports.
The police are trying to understand whether the two gravely injured people were holding the device when it went off.
“There will be implications if it is a terror attack for security in and around Jerusalem,” Rosenfeld said.
At the scene, the two charred Egged buses were reminiscent of images from the second intifada, when Hamas suicide attackers exploded buses across Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The first bus, where the explosive device was detonated, was a blackened skeleton that reeked of burnt rubber; all that remained of the seats were twisted metal rods. The glass windows had been blown out into the median, where blue shards covered the evergreen shrubs.
The blast occurred on Moshe Baram Street near Pat Junction, between Talpiot, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and Beit Safafa, a Palestinian neighborhood. Both Jews and Arabs ride on buses on the thoroughfare.
Muhammad Othman, an employee at the nearby Star Café in Beit Safafa, said that he thought the boiler in his restaurant exploded when he heard the blast. Realizing that the noise came from outside, he went to the street and saw the buses on fire. Ambulances were evacuating people from the scene, some on foot and others on stretchers, he said.
On the bike path that runs parallel to Moshe Baram Street, Shimon Biton, a security professional from the nearby Pat neighborhood, said he saw the news on television and biked over with his daughter’s boyfriend. He stared at the burnt bus in front of him.
“It’s terrorism,” he said. “I am afraid for my children. I have seven.”
Yet he said that the blast didn’t remind him of the second intifada, because it happened in Jerusalem and such bombings had not spread to Tel Aviv. “I’m not calling it an intifada, I’m calling it terror.”
Taha Othman, Muhammad Othman’s cousin and a professor of media at Anwar College in East Jerusalem, said he didn’t know what to call the blast since the cause had not yet been determined by the police.
He said that he was playing the drums in Talpiot when his parents in Beit Safafa phone him about the explosion. They doors on their balcony blew open, and they were terrified.
Othman said that he was planning on walking on Moshe Baram Street around the time of the attack, but had chosen a different route.
“I could have faced death,” he said. “It makes you be thankful for living and second chance.”
Sarah Asaban, a 22-year-old from Gilo who is 7 months pregnant, was out to dinner with her husband in Talpiot when she learned of the blast. She also thought about how it could have been her.
“I don’t have a car, I’m always on the bus,” she said.
Contact Naomi Zeveloff at Zeveloff@forward.com or on Twitter @Naomizeveloff
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.