Israel charges Tel Aviv bus bomb suspect

TEL AVIV Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:55am EST

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TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel charged an Israeli Arab citizen on Wednesday over a bomb explosion on a Tel Aviv bus during Israel's November military offensive in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the Justice Ministry said.

The bus was driving close to Israel's defense ministry complex when the bomb went off on November 21, wounding 15 people.

Mohammed Mafarja, 18, is accused of planting the bomb on behalf of Hamas, the Islamist group which rules Gaza, to boost their cause during the conflict with Israel.

Israel launched an offensive against Hamas and other Gaza militant factions on November 14 with the declared aim of stopping their rocket fire into its territory. Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the fighting that lasted eight days.

Three Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank were arrested along with Mafarja last month and are still in custody, a police spokesman said. They are suspected of recruiting the teenager to carry out the bombing.

Mafarja, according to the charges, notified his handlers when the bomb was in place on the commuter bus and they then detonated the device with a mobile phone.

No trial date was set and Mafarja's lawyer asked for three weeks to study the charge sheet. He said that the defendant may not have intended to blow up the bus.

"It appears that he did not know that the content of the bag would lead to such a result," lawyer Ihab Jaljouli told reporters at the Tel Aviv District Court.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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