A bomb exploded aboard an Israeli bus near the nation's military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding 27 people, delivering a major blow to diplomatic efforts to forge a truce to end a week of fighting between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers. Thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in Gaza fearing Israeli airstrikes.
Hours after the bus blast, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is shuttling across the region in truce talks, arrived in Cairo and met with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who is mediating between Israel and Hamas to end the fighting that has killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.
The blast, which left the bus charred and its windows blown out, was the first bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006. It appeared aimed at sparking Israeli fears of a return to the violence of the Palestinian uprising last decade, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis in bombings and shooting attacks and left more than 5,000 Palestinians dead as well. Hamas has carried dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
While Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, it praised the bombing.
"We consider it a natural response to the occupation crimes and the ongoing massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Associated Press.
Bassem Ezbidi, a West Bank political analyst, said it was unlikely Hamas itself was behind the attack, since it would not want to risk losing any of the international support it gained in recent days.
"If Hamas wants to target civilians it would do so by firing rockets, but not by buses because such attacks left a negative record in the minds of people. Hamas doesn't need this now," he said.
On the other hand, Hamas may be interested in signalling to Israel that a renewed bombing campaign is possible, particularly as thousands of Israeli ground troops massed on the Gaza border awaiting a possible invasion should cease-fire talks fail.
Palestinian officials briefed on the negotiations said Hamas wanted assurances of a comprehensive deal that included new arrangements for prying open Gaza's heavily restricted borders, and were resisting Israeli proposals for a phased agreement. Israel and Egypt slammed shut the border after the militant group seized the territory from Abbas in June 2007, hoping to disrupt Hamas rule.
El Deeb contributed to this report from Gaza City.