The bomb went off in a car in Claremont Street off the Lower Lisburn Road, a mixed Catholic and Protestant area which contains both houses and offices. Many windows were blown inand a number of people were injured. It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
If it was the IRA, hopes of a ceasefire, already jolted by last week's IRA murder of two RUC officers in Lurgan, would be further dimmed. But the possibility of a revenge attack by Loyalist paramilitaries was also being considered.
Plans to bring Sinn Fein into talks within six weeks went to the Republicans just three days before the Lurgan murders, it emerged last night.
Written proposals sent to Sinn Fein also spelled out the conditions under which it could join full-scale negotiations by September - putting the issue of weapons decommissioning to one side.
The revelation comes just days before a planned Government attempt to revive the peace process. It would appear that either a faction within the IRA decided to sabotage the process, or that the Republican movement still wanted to keep up the pressure on the British government.
Mr Blair, who had two meetings with President Clinton yesterday, was expecting full backing from the Americans in his attempt to gain a new ceasefire leading to quick talks. He had been heartened by the clear and immediate condemnation of the Lurgan killings from Mr Clinton and his administration.
But at home there were signs that the Conservative leadership may discard the tradition of bilateral support for the government over the Northern Ireland peace process. One source said that Mr Hague "may not feel bound by it".
Under the new government proposals a timetable was set out for entry into the talks after a ceasefire. Providing the ceasefire was judged unequivocal, rather than tactical, Sinn Fein would take part in the first plenary session of talks at the end of July where it would be invited to sign up to the arms decommissioning principles proposed by US Senator George Mitchell.
A man was taken to hospital with gun-shot wounds to his leg yesterday after what appeared to be a paramilitary attack in west Belfast.
Summer of hate: page 4Reuse content