Road-map in tatters as Israel halts withdrawals

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The Independent US

On a day of bloodshed and horror elsewhere in the Middle East, yesterday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem threatened to undermine the so-called road-map promoted by the United States to find a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The White House said it deplored the attack - responsibility for which was claimed separately by two militant groups - and demanded that the Palestinian Authority crack down on terror against Israelis. "We condemn this vicious act of terrorism," said Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "We call on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorism."

Last night Israel responded to what was one of the most deadly attacks in the past three years of violence by calling off the planned handover of the West Bank towns of Jericho and Qalqiliya to Palestinian control. The handover arrangement - finalised last weekend - would involve ceding control of a total of four West Bank towns to the Palestinians.

There is little doubt that the attack has put further pressure on the Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, who was meeting Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip to try to persuade them to halt attacks on Israelis when the bomb exploded.

Abu Mazen emerged from his meeting to condemn the bombing of the bus, which killed a number of children. He said: "I announce my strong condemnation of this horrible act, which does not serve the interest of the Palestinian people at all, and I have given my instructions to the security minister to launch an investigation."

Before the attack, President George Bush, who earlier this year met Abu Mazen at the White House, repeated his demand for the Palestinian authorities to "dismantle terrorist organisations".

Yesterday morning, hours before the bombings in Jerusalem and Baghdad, Mr Bush said: "I'm happy there's calm. I think that's important. But the most important thing is for the parties that care for peace to dismantle terrorist organisations that want to kill. That's how we're going to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. But the ultimate solution - and this can happen quickly in my judgement - is to find those who would believe killing is the best approach to dealing with the very difficult problems in the Middle East."

Israel has recently eased its demand that the Palestinian Authority incarcerate wanted terrorists, putting its faith in the authority's ability to monitor them and keep them from launching attacks. At the weekend Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defence Minister, and his Palestinian opposite number, Mohammed Dahlan, held talks to try to get the road-map for peace back on course.