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Israel buries bomb blast victims

Negotiators determined to continue peace talks as Arafat condemns 'terrorist activities'

of Associated Press

Tel Aviv - On the day Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation were supposed to sign an expanded autonomy agreement, Israel instead buried five victims of Monday's bus bombing that shook support for the fragile peace.

But Israeli leaders reaffirmed talks with the Palestinians would resume, perhaps this week and most likely outside Israel. Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, said Israelis and Palestinians would meet after the funerals to decide where and when to resume the talks suspended after the bombing.

At the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv, about 150 mourners buried Moshe Shkedi, 80, one of six people - apparently including the suicide bomber - killed in the explosion, which went off as the bus passed Israel's diamond exchange in the Ramat Gan suburb of Tel Aviv. Israel radio said 22 people remained in hospital, including one in critical condition and three with serious injuries. The blast shattered the sense of security Israelis had begun to regain after a lull of months in such attacks.

"We have learnt to bury our dead and go on until the next tragedy. And if the tragedy is shocking the expectation of it is horrifying," Sima Kadmon wrote in the daily Ma'ariv.

"There is nothing more terrible than tragedies turning into certainties like the rain and heat. You are sure they will come. You just do not know on what day."

It was in sharp contrast to what was supposed to happen yesterday: the signing by Israel and the Palestinians of an agreement on extending Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, the next stage in their peace efforts. Gaps remain on the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and on control of water.

While it was clear even before the bombing that they would miss the target date, Israel and the PLO leaders stressed they would not let the attacks halt their peace efforts.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said the talks would reconvene somewhere in Europe. But Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, wanted the talks to stay in the Middle East, perhaps in Cairo. The Palestinians' top negotiator, Ahmad Qureia, said the atmosphere in Israel after the bombing was not conducive to successful negotiations: "The Palestinians will not resume the talks under psychological pressures and blackmailing."

Mr Arafat called Mr Rabin to offer condolences and condemned what he called "terrorist activities" - the first time he has used such language to describe attacks on Israelis.

Police believed the attacker belonged to an Islamic fundamentalist group, and callers to the media claimed the bombing was carried out by Hamas.