TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Twenty-five people, including two suicide bombers, were killed, and at least 108 others were injured Sunday in a pair of powerful explosions that rocked the old bus station area in southern Tel Aviv, police said.
The commander of the Tel Aviv police, Maj. Gen. Yossi Sedbon, said the attack was a double suicide bombing. It was timed to occur during the height of the evening rush hour. Both Islamic Jihad and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.
Sedbon said the explosions were "almost simultaneous." One explosion occurred in a section of a pedestrian mall that includes a restaurant, McChina, a money changer and a telephone booth for calls abroad. The second occurred near a bus station on a parallel street some 600 feet away. The bombs were packed with bolts to increase injuries, police said. Most of the victims were foreign workers.
In Washington, President George W. Bush called the attackers "terrorists."
"Today terrorists struck again in Israel, murdering and injuring scores of civilians in Tel Aviv," Bush said in a statement.
"I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is a despicable act of murder, and I express my condolences to the government and people of Israel and especially to the families of the victims. ...
"The United States is determined to continue the global fight against terrorism and against the terrorist organizations that conduct operations such as the murders in Israel today."
A man who was injured in the Sunday suicide bombings, identified only as Avner, said he fled from the site of the first explosion only to run into the second. He was eventually taken to Tel Hashomer hospital.
John Adu, 45, of Ghana, who works as a house cleaner and lives nearby, said he had gone out to buy milk when he heard the first explosion.
"I fell down, and people were running and stepping on me," he recounted. He got up, noticed blood on his pants, ran, heard the second explosion and fell again.
"I began to cry," Adu said. "I thought that I was going to die here. I said that if I die, at least I will have died in the Holy Land, and God will save me." Adu is Christian.
The blood turned out to be that of other wounded victims who brushed by him.
Adu, who sends money to his wife and two children in Ghana, said, "If I had money, I would leave this country." However, a moment later, he said: "I love this country. They can come and kill everyone, and I will stay and they can kill me, too."
At least eight people died at the site of the first blast, and seven were declared dead at the location of the second. Other deaths occurred after victims were taken to hospitals.
The old bus station area has narrow streets, which hampered the evacuation of the injured since ambulances had difficulty clearing the narrow passes. People evacuated the wounded using doors and wagons, while medics worked on the victims on sidewalks.
TV footage showed one person on a stretcher being taken to an ambulance, when the victim was apparently declared dead. Rescue workers lowered him to the sidewalk, covered the body with a white sheet and wheeled another person into the ambulance.
The toll of those injured could go higher. Past attacks showed that many foreign workers are afraid to go to the hospital. Israeli media broadcast promises in Hebrew and English that all victims would be treated free of charge, no questions asked.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai broadcast a statement promising, "The government will not enforce the law, and temporary permits will be issued" to the victims and their families for treatment and subsequent observation.
"The important thing is that they should not run away and disappear when they are wounded."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon summoned top Cabinet ministers for late-night consultations. In an address in Jerusalem Sharon said Israel wants "to stop the brutal terror, and to achieve calm and quiet. Only when the brutal terror is stopped, only then will we be able to talk peace.
"All attempts to reach a cease-fire, even today, are failing due to the Palestinian leadership that continues to support, fund and initiate terror," Sharon added.
Mahmoud Azzahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said the attacks prove that Israel cannot promise security in the country.
Azzahar denied that there is any relation between the attacks and the Israeli election campaign, adding that the "right and left wings in Israel are two faces of the same coin, and both are repressing the Palestinian people."
"Despite the strict Israeli security measures of closures, curfews and sieges imposed on the West Bank and Gaza, the men managed to reach the heart of Israel and carried out the attack," said Azzahar.
In Tel Aviv, another Ghanaian house cleaner, Edward Amakwa, commented: "The Arabs make the bombs to kill the enemies. They are fighting over a piece of land. It doesn't make any sense. When you die, you are not going to carry the land with you. It doesn't make any sense to kill your neighbors."
Later on Sunday, Israeli army Apache helicopters flew over Gaza City
and fired rockets at several targets in Gaza City in what was seen as retaliation for the suicide bombing attacks.
A Palestinian public security spokesman said two metal workshops were hit by eight rockets in the neighborhood of Zeitoon in the city.
Medical sources at Shiffa Hospital said at least four Palestinians were slightly or moderately injured, and were treated at the hospital.
The Israeli army spokesman said the helicopter attack in Gaza targeted a weapons-making workshop "used by a number of terrorist organizations."
"The workshop was mainly used for making mortar shells in addition to a variety of other weapon types," the army said.
(With reporting by Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza.)