Attack stalls Middle East peace talks

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The Independent Online
THE MIDDLE EAST peace talks were plunged into crisis yesterday after a grenade attack in Israel left dozens injured.

A Palestinian man threw grenades into a crowded bus station in Beersheba, in the Negev desert, yesterday morning. The incident came as Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were trying to restore some life to the moribund peace process in talks in the US. Israel promptly withdrew from most of the negotiations, saying the attack showed the need for much-increased security guarantees from the Palestinians.

Israeli officials said they would talk only about their own security, a subject that occupies only part of the agenda. A Palestinian official called the move "cheap blackmail". President Yasser Arafat condemned the attack, saying that it was "an attempt to sabotage the peace talks".

That certainly seemed to have been the effect. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, decided to withdraw from most of the negotiations after consulting with Ariel Sharon, his foreign minister, and other top officials at the Wye Mills conference centre in rural Maryland where they are cloistered.

"After the consultations conducted in the kitchen cabinet it was decided that Israel will demand that the Palestinians fulfil all of their commitments so that there can be progress on other issues and there is a need to focus on issues of security and terror," a statement released by Mr Netanyahu's office said.

The grenades were thrown just before 8am as commuters were waiting for buses at Beersheba, 50 miles south of Jerusalem. The first landed close to a queue of soldiers, injuring 25. The second fell near civilians at another bus stop.

Avner, a bus driver, said: "I saw someone lift his arm. He threw something and ran towards my bus. He bumped into it and fell. I jumped on him to catch him. He did not react. He closed his eyes as if he was dead." Police said the man claimed he had acted alone, but they were looking for a second man. A total of 64 civilians and soldiers were injured.

The attack is being used by Israel as a means of increasing its leverage for a deal that would provide extra security. "The Palestinian Authority is not doing anything to crack down on terrorist activity," said David Bar-Illan, a senior adviser to Mr Netanyahu, as Israel broke the media blackout that had been supposed to surround the talks.

The attack came on the fifth day of talks, which were already going slowly, and threatens to end them altogether. President Bill Clinton, who convened the negotiations, spoke with the participants yesterday in an attempt to get things moving.

Bus stop attack, page 13

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