JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A bomb that Israeli authorities suspect was planted by Palestinian militants exploded in a bus near Tel Aviv on Sunday after passengers were evacuated, and police said no one was hurt.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombing. But Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist militant group Hamas, said in a statement the blast was a "heroic action" in response to what he termed the "continued crimes" of Israel's occupation of land Palestinians seek for a state.
Photographs from the scene, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, showed the blast blew out the vehicle's windows.
"There were about 12 passengers on the bus. The driver stopped immediately when he was alerted to a suspicious object. It was a bag on the back bench, and he immediately ordered everyone off," Eitan Fixman, a spokesman for the Dan bus company, was quoted as saying on the YNet news site.
"We confirm the explosion on the bus today was a terror attack, based on assessments and evidence gathered at the scene," said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, referring to suspected Palestinian militants.
Police had set up roadblocks at entrances to the occupied West Bank and were searching cars for the perpetrators.
It was the first such incident since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - which have shown few signs of progress - resumed in July.
"We strongly condemn the bombing of a bus near Tel Aviv today. Our thoughts are with those affected and with the Israeli people at this time," U.S. State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said in a statement on Sunday.
"Violent acts targeting civilians are deplorable. We reaffirm our unshakable bond with Israel and our solidarity with the Israeli people."
Violence in the West Bank has increased in recent months, and at least 19 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed in the occupied territory since the negotiations got under way after a three-year break.
Rosenfeld said one of its bomb experts was examining the explosive "from a distance" when the bag blew up. He was taken to hospital for observation but was not listed as injured.
One of the passengers on the bus had alerted others to the bag, prompting them to leave the bus before the explosion, he said.
Israeli media reports said one person was slightly hurt.
The last time a bomb exploded on an Israeli bus was in November 2012, when 15 people were wounded near the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. An Israeli Arab pleaded guilty earlier this month to planting the bomb and said it was for political reasons.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and; Ori Lewis and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Roche and Sonya Hepinstall)