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Security Concerns Heighten After Bus Explosion In Jerusalem

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

People in Israel are on edge today. A small bomb exploded on a bus in Jerusalem. It wounded at least 16 people, two of them critically. The incident recalled waves of bus bombings that happened more than a decade ago in Israel, and it happened as an Israeli military court charged a soldier in the shooting death of a Palestinian man last month. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The day started with Israel focused on this unusual court case. The soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, is an Israeli army medic, charged today with manslaughter for an incident three weeks ago. Here's how that incident unfolded - two Palestinians stabbed and injured an Israeli soldier in Hebron. One attacker was killed. The other was lying wounded on the ground.

Video taken by an Israeli human rights group show that Palestinian was barely moving when Sgt. Azaria appeared to cock his gun and shoot him in the head. The charges and the military trial have divided Israelis. Outside Jerusalem's central bus station today, 18-year-old Natan Guetta said he sides with the soldier.

NATAN GUETTA: He killed who came to kill him.

HARRIS: Guetta will head into the army himself soon, and he says the master he will then serve, the Israeli military, made a big mistake by putting Azaria on trial.

GUETTA: Because he's a soldier, and we need to cover his back when he needs us.

HARRIS: A recent poll shows more than half of Israelis agree. Many have vocally accused Israel's military leadership for undermining its soldiers, an unusual critique in a country where the army consistently ranks as a highly trusted institution. But a former soldier, Omer Levy, now 25 years old, says the military - the IDF - is doing the right thing with the charges.

OMER LEVY: The IDF has very high moral standards, and any soldier who breaks them should face judgment.

HARRIS: He says orders are clear even in complex situations.

LEVY: Usually, the order to open fire is very restricted. The regulations about shooting someone after he's down is very simple. It's don't do it.

HARRIS: Palestinian officials have accused Israel of shooting to kill even suspected attackers, sometimes teens who could potentially be disarmed a different way. Since October, 28 Israelis and two Americans have been killed over the course of hundreds of Palestinian attacks. Israel says its forces have killed at least 140 attackers.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE SIREN)

HARRIS: And the wave of violence took a potential new turn Monday afternoon. Israeli police and ambulances rushed to two buses burning on a busy street in a commercial area of Jerusalem. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that an explosive device, a small bomb, had detonated on one of the city buses. He said evidence strongly pointed toward terrorism and apparent escalation of the recent violence.

MICKY ROSENFELD: Security issues and security measures will have to be implemented and heightened here in Jerusalem.

HARRIS: Two Palestinian groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, praised the bombing on the bus. Neither claimed responsibility. Israel had also announced this morning the military found a tunnel coming from Gaza into Israel, the kind used in the past in militant attacks. Hamas's armed wing claimed there are many more.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.