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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jerusalem Bus Bomb Kills 20, Wounds 100

JERUSALEM -- A suicide bombing killed 20 people and wounded more than 100, including about 40 children, but Israel decided Wednesday to hold off on a major military strike in response.

The decision gives Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas a little more time to decide whether to shift policy and order the arrests of Palestinian militants. The Palestinian Authority's next move could well determine the fate of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The suicide bomber detonated the explosives in the center of a tandem bus, which has two passenger sections, shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday on a main thoroughfare in central Jerusalem. Many Jewish worshippers had stepped aboard at the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall. The bus was headed to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the city's outskirts, and families with children were packed in the seats and aisles. It was the deadliest Palestinian attack since the road map was unveiled three months ago by U.S. President George W. Bush. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met with Palestinian security commanders in the Gaza Strip, but a decision on possible action against those involved in the bombing will only be made later Wednesday, at a Palestinian Cabinet meeting, said Dahlan spokesman Elias Zananiri.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who could lose his job if violence persists, has said he will not confront the militants because he fears internal fighting. However, Abbas is now under growing pressure to take strong action against militants, as required by the road map.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and top defense officials decided Wednesday to give Dahlan some time to begin cracking down on the militants, a security official said.

Israel froze all contacts with the Palestinian Authority after the bombing and canceled the planned handover of two West Bank towns to Palestinian control, a move that had been expected later this week. The Israeli army also closed border crossings to seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel is expected to intensify its hunt for wanted militants if the Palestinian security forces do not take action, but a major military strike, on par with last year's offensives in response to bombings of a similar scale, is not being considered, the defense official said. Security officials also decided against targeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the official said.

Abbas was meeting with Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza City on Tuesday evening when he received word of the bombing. Condemning the attack as a "terrible crime," he broke off contact with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He also called off trips to Italy and Norway and convened an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Both sides appear to have a continued interest in keeping the U.S.-backed peace plan alive.