Mid-East talks back on track

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The Independent Online
MIDDLE EAST peace talks seemed to be heading for a partial agreement last night after a heavy dose of political pressure from President Bill Clinton.

Monday's grenade attack in Beersheba disrupted the talks, which had been going slowly anyway, leading Israel to withdraw temporarily from all but security negotiations. Mr Clinton returned to the rural conference centre in Maryland where the talks are being held to bring things back together, and talks on other issues - including the right of Palestinians to safe passage through Israel - resumed. Yesterday, he cancelled a campaign trip to return yet again to the talks.

As he did so, the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamic militant organisation, claimed responsibility for the grenade attack. The Palestinian under arrest for throwing two grenades in a Beersheba bus station, wounding 64 Israelis, has confessed also to killing a rabbi and throwing a grenade at soldiers in Hebron, the Israeli army said yesterday.

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Preventive Security agency, identified the attacker as Salem Rajab Sarsour, 29, a construction worker, who had been living in the Palestinian enclave in the city of Hebron, south of Jerusalem.

The Israeli army says he confessed to killing Rabbi Shlomo Roonan with a knife at the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida in Hebron last August. In response to the death, the Israeli government said it would build permanent structures at the site where settler families live in mobile homes.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Mr Sarsour threw a grenade at soldiers in Hebron, leaving several of them wounded. The claim by Izz el-Din al-Qassem, the military wing of Hamas, that Mr Sarsour was one of its members is surprising because in recent months it has remained silent after such attacks to avoid giving the Palestinian security forces an excuse to arrest its members. The Israeli army said Mr Sarsour had joined Hamas after killing Rabbi Roonan and was given training on how to throw a grenade.

The grenade attack and the claim of responsibility by Hamas means that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is likely to carry out widespread arrests. If there is an agreement with Israel its price will be an attack on Hamas by Palestinian security forces to secure a stage-by-stage Israeli withdrawal from part of the West Bank.