JERUSALEM/SOFIA (AFP-EJP)---The "vast majority" of those killed and wounded in a bombing at an airport in Bulgaria on Wednesday were Israelis, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said.
The attack was blamed on Iran by Israel.
"The vast majority of the dead and the injured are Israelis," the ministry's deputy spokesman Paul Hirschson told AFP.
The blast occurred around 1400 GMT on the bus carrying Israelis who had flown in to Burgas, the second largest city on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, setting off a fire that spread to another two buses, the ministry said.
Israel's foreign ministry said the attack targeted a group of tourists who had just arrived on a flight from Tel Aviv.
Israeli media reports said many of those on the flight were young Israeli school-leavers who were just about to be drafted into the military.
Israel said it had been informed by Bulgaria that seven people were killed, including six Israelis, while Bulgarian interior ministry officials in Sofia put the death toll at six, with 32 wounded.
"There are two planes now en route to Bulgaria which will probably arrive in the next two hours," the foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirchson, said, indicating that they were carrying diplomats and medics who would help with the treatment of the injured and identification of the dead.
Among them were representatives of ZAKA, an Israeli group which recovers human remains in accordance with the halacha or Jewish religious law in order to afford them a proper burial.
Medics from Israel's Magen David Adom emergency services were also preparing to fly out to help with the treatment and repatriation of wounded Israelis, the organisation said.
"The identification of the victims has not yet been completed by the Bulgarians and hasn't even been started by the Israelis. And then you have to start the process of informing the families of the victims," Hirschson said.
The injured would eventually be flown back to Israel but it was not immediately clear when the first flights would leave Bulgaria, he added.
The foreign ministry has formed a team of experts that will fly to Burgas and assist local authorities in the investigation. The Israeli embassy in Sofia has been mobilized and is ready to assist the team.
The attack targeted a bus carrying a group of Israeli tourists who had just landed in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, 400 km east of Sofia, with Bulgarian officials saying it was caused by a bomb planted on the bus.
The explosion ripped through the bus carrying Israeli holiday-makers in Bulgaria.
Witnesses described how panicked passengers jumped from bus windows and bodies lay strewn on the ground with their clothes torn off as ambulance sirens wailed and black smoke rose over Sarafovo airport in Burgas.
The bus had on board 47 out of 51 people who had just arrived on a plane from Israel including one American and a Slovenian. The foreign ministry said 154 Israelis arrived on Wednesday at Burgas airport including eight children;
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government said it had been told the death toll was seven, said "all signs point to Iran" after an official in Jerusalem said the bus was shot at and an explosive thrown.
"Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror," Netanyahu said. "In the past few months we have seen attempts by Iran to harm Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other places."
He stressed that exactly 18 years to the day after the horrendous attack on the Jewish community center in Argentina, "deadly Iranian terrorism continues to strike at innocent people.This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it," Netanyahu added.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also vowed that Israel will find the perpetrators of the s terrorist attack.
"The defense establishment will work with all its might to find the perpetrators of this terrorist attack and those who sent them.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolay Mladenov in relation to the explosion. Mladenov was heading to the site of the blast and said that he would bring Liberman up to date when he arrives. "Bulgaria will do everything in its power to clarify the causes of this terrible incident," the minister said.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called Prime Minister Netanyahu and asked to convey his condolences over the deaths of the Israeli tourists. He said that the terrorist attack was not only against Israelis "but against Bulgaria as well."
Netanyahu thanked his Bulgarian counterpart and said that Iran and Hizbullah are conducting a campaign of terrorism against Israeli targets around the world.
Condemnations from US, France and the UK
The attack -- the deadliest on Israelis abroad since 2004, and the first on Bulgarian soil against Israelis -- drew strong condemnation from its staunchest ally the United States, as well as from France and Britain
US President Barack Obama condemned the "barbaric terrorist attack".
Obama did not mention Iran in his written statement but reaffirmed America's "unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."
"My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel, Bulgaria, and any other nation whose citizens were harmed in this awful event," he said.
"These attacks against innocent civilians, including children, are completely outrageous. The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack."
France also strongly condemned the attack against the bus and voiced solidarity with Israel in the face of "terrorism.”
"France condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack today that targeted a group of Israeli tourists... in Bulgaria," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
He said France wants to demonstrate its "solidarity with the Israeli authorities in the fight against hatred and terrorism."
In London, British Foreign Minister William Hague said: “I condemn today's terrorist attack. The full tragedy of the attacks is not yet clear, but I would like to express my condolences to the friends and family of those injured and killed.”
Buenos Aires bombing anniversary
The attack came precisely on the 18th anniversary of an attack on Jewish community centre AMIA in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and wounded 300.
Israel also held Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah responsible back in 1994.
Israel's foreign ministry said that Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov had told his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman that "the explosion was caused by a bomb.”.
Burgas mayor Dimitar Nikolov, who was at the airport at the time, said the blast happened as tourists were boarding the bus and placing their bags in the luggage compartment, where he suspects the explosives might have been.
"I cannot say if it was an act of terrorism. The blast was very strong and in my view was triggered by a device which was deliberately set," he said.
Pictures showed huge plumes of black smoke rising over the airport, which the ministry said was closed after the attack.
Television showed ambulances rushing people to hospital and women crying.
Israel and formerly communist Bulgaria enjoy very good relations, and the Black Sea coast has become a popular holiday spot for Israelis, with almost 140,000 visiting the country in 2011.
"I was on the bus and we had just sat down when after a few seconds we heard a really loud explosion," one Israeli tourist, Gal Malka, told Israeli army radio. "The whole bus went up in flames."
Aviva, another Israeli woman who was on a nearby bus, said she heard a "very loud explosion".
"There are seven dead people," she told the radio, adding that she saw people whose clothes had been blown off and bodies lying on the floor.
"It was just terrible; people were jumping out of the windows," she said.
In January, Israeli public television reported that Bulgarian authorities had foiled a bomb attack when they found an explosive device on a bus chartered to take Israeli tourists to a ski resort.
Bulgarian troops were deployed in several ski resorts frequented by Israeli tourists after the bomb was found, the report added.
The Israeli military said it was about to send a plane carrying a medical team to Bulgaria "in order to provide medical care and to assist those injured in returning to Israel," a statement said.
The former head of Israel’s Counterterrorism Bureau, Nitzan Nuriel, said that Hezbollah and Iran could have recruited operatives from within Bulgaria’s Muslim community or crossed into the country from Turkey.
“Hezbollah has a presence in Bulgaria and there have been attempts that were thwarted there before,” Nuriel, who stepped down from his post earlier this year.
“They could have relied on the local Muslim community or crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey. It is quite easy.”
Nuriel said that if eyewitness reports that a suicide bomber carried out the attack, then it could be a sign of Hezbollah frustration with its failure until now to successfully attack Israel in past attempts in India, Georgia, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
“Using a suicide bomber is in order to make sure that the attack will take place since the bomber will be able to make the necessary decisions,” he said.