Israel Worries About US Peace Efforts
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KARKUR JUNCTION, Israel (AP) _ A bus bombing that killed 14 people and two attackers is complicating renewed U.S. efforts to bring an end to two years of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
A vehicle stuffed with explosives drove up to a bus stopped at a highway station Monday and blew up, turning the bus into a fiery mass of twisted metal. Dozens of people were wounded.
The attack, the bloodiest Palestinian suicide bombing in three months, came as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns toured the region, planning talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials later this week about a U.S. peace plan.
Mark Sofer, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the attack was intended to undermine Burns’ visit. He is due in Israel on Wednesday, carrying a U.S. plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
``A new glimmer of hope had arrived in the Middle East with the possible road map,″ Sofer said. ``Immediately some Palestinian groups seized the opportunity to carry out yet another murderous attack inside of Israel.″
The Burns mission is the first high-level U.S. attempt to engage in Mideast peacemaking on the ground in months.
The militant Islamic Jihad movement claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred during afternoon rush hour near the town of Hadera. The area, at Israel’s narrowest point, less than 10 miles from the line between Israel and the West Bank and near the Mediterranean coast, has been a frequent target of Palestinian attacks.
On June 5, 17 people were killed in a similar attack at a nearby intersection. Anonymous Israeli security sources quoted on Israel Radio and TV said Eyad Sawalha, an Islamic Jihad leader, was behind both attacks. Israeli security has been looking for Sawalha, 30, for months.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat denounced the bombing. ``You know that the Palestinian leadership position is against such attacks that target civilians, Israelis or Palestinians,″ he told reporters at his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
However, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres held Arafat’s Palestinian Authority responsible, arguing that his security forces have not made serious efforts to prevent attacks. Peres was speaking during a trip to Brussels, Belgium.
Israel was expected to respond to the grisly attack, but it was not immediately clear whether it would set off another Israeli military offensive in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Israeli media reported that the Israelis would go no further than stepping up security measures this time.
After a string of suicide bombings in June, Israel sent troops into most main Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, taking control and imposing curfews. Just last week, soldiers withdrew from Jenin, the main Islamic Jihad center, said to be Sawalha’s base of operations.
The chief military spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, said Israeli steps to ease restrictions on Palestinians for humanitarian reasons, like lifting curfews and allowing some Palestinians into Israel to work, had been used by the militant groups to stage attacks.
``The government of Israel will have to take all necessary precautions to stop the next ticking bomb that it is on its way,″ she said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush condemned the latest attack.
``It’s another reminder of how it’s so important for peace to be pursued and for terror to be stopped,″ Fleischer told reporters.