Arafat says attacks on Israel must be halted

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Yasser Arafat called for an immediate end to Palestinian attacks against civilians in Israel yesterday. The appeal was his fourth since the 18-month intifada began.

Speaking after a suicide bombing in West Jerusalem, the Palestinian leader said he would "take appropriate and immediate measure to put an end to such attacks".

In remarks that reflect intense pressure from Washington, Mr Arafat said he was committed to a truce to end the conflict, which has claimed more then 1,500 lives.

After the bomb attack, which killed two Israelis, Israel cancelled the next round of ceasefire talks with the Palestinians, but said it had not given up on them altogether.

In a blast audible throughout Jerusalem, the bomber blew himself up outside a clothing store and toy shop in King George Street – part of a busy commercial area that has been repeatedly attacked in the intifada. As ambulances arrived, police snipers were dispatched, and security services rounded up Arabs in a now wearily familiar routine.

The bomber had raised suspicions of pedestrians in the area. One witness, Adi Aluz, said the suspect was wearing a denim coat with a hood and kept smiling and looking backward. "I started following him," Mr Aluz said. "I told two cops about him, what he was wearing. By the time they got to him he was in King George Street. By that time, he blew up."

The attack was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is affiliated with the Fatah movement. The bomber was named as Mohammed Hashaykeh, 22, from a village near Nablus in the West Bank.

The killings prompted fresh demands from Israel and the United States for Mr Arafat, the head of Fatah, to rein in the general violence that has eased since the arrival in the region of General Anthony Zinni, the US envoy, despite the continuing suicide attacks. Washington said yesterday that it had designated the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade "a foreign terrorist organisation".

America has been pushing hard to obtain a truce ahead of next week's Arab summit in Beirut, where Saudi Arabia is to present an Arab peace plan.

Palestinian officials pointed out that the attack came on the same day as the Israeli army made more raids and arrests in Arab villages in the West Bank inside Area A – autonomous Palestinian areas. The Palestinian Authority condemned the "dangerous and suspicious" attacks.

The diplomatic manoeuvring was never expected to bring an immediate end to the violence,particularly after the army's offensive, in which more than 100 Palestinians have been killed.

There are many unsettled scores, quite apart from the drive by the Palestinian militants to undermine Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and end the occupation. The militant groups have made clear they want Israel to address the central political issue – the occupation.

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said the ceasefire talks would continue despite the attack, which came a day after a suicide bomber killed seven passengers on a bus in central Israel.

Those who have seen Mr Arafat in the past few days have been convinced he is opposed to the suicide bombings. They do not help his chances of qualifying for the two offers before him, both of which depend on him taking specific steps to rein in Palestinian violence and restore calm.

Mr Sharon has agreed to allow Mr Arafat to travel to the Beirut summit and the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has offered to meet him in the region, if Mr Arafat satisfies General Zinni he is doing enough. But this approach, outlined by Mr Cheney in a lightning visit this week, is seen by many Palestinians as high-handed and crude. They believe it places Mr Arafat – but not Israel – in the position of having to fulfil certain conditions to earn a meeting with the Americans, who are seen in the Arab world as pro-Israeli.