Israelis 'must not abandon peace': Hamas bomb kills 22 and injures 40 in 'outrage against the world'

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ISRAELIS traumatised by a lethal bombing in their heartland of Tel Aviv seemed uncertain last night whether their country was on the verge of historic peace or further bloody war.

As the death toll rose to 22, with more than 40 wounded in the attack by an Arab suicide bomber from Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Israeli leaders insisted that the only answer to such violence was to continue the peace process.

'I appeal to the citizens of Israel to take a deep breath. A lot of patience and forbearance is needed. These are enemies of peace who try to torpedo things,' said President Ezer Weizman, as Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, cut short a visit to London. Back in Israel, Mr Rabin went to the Defence Ministry, and said on television later that he would present to cabinet today 'proposals which will enable the proper actions in the face of cruel and horrible Hamas terrorism'.

Bill Clinton, the US President, who is due in the region next week to attend the signing ceremony of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, described the bombing as 'an outrage against the conscience of the world', promising that the 'enemies of peace' would not succeed.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation also unreservedly condemned the attack. The blast was a 'crime against innocent people' and an attempt to 'explode the peace process', said Yasser Abed Rabbo, spokesman for Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman.

The people of Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, however, were not reassured by the politicians. They could see the destructive power of Hamas as they watched rescue workers pick out severed limbs from the mangled wreckage of the blasted bus.

'How much more can we take?' screamed a distraught young girl. In the city's most fashionable thoroughfare, lined with cafes and restaurants, people normally feel immune from the conflict. Yesterday, limbs and torn-off branches of trees were scattered all around. Expensive polished cars were marked with pieces of burnt flesh.

Outside Ben and Jerry's ice-cream shop, crowds stood aghast as a crane prized the mangled pile of blackened steel from the road. The front half of the bus roof was bent upwards in a wide arc from which a single handle for a passenger still dangled. The pavements either side were carpeted with smashed glass and discarded bloodied surgical gloves. Eli Thomas, 42, a dental assistant, described how he had stamped on the flames of the burning wreck to pull three passengers to safety. 'I could see that everyone else was dead. Just a pile of bodies,' he said.

As the Knesset met in emergency session, uproar broke out, and Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud, called for a wall to be built to separate Gaza and the West Bank from Israel.

Lebanon lessons, page 14 Future of peace, page 19 (Photograph omitted)