Palestinian dies in suicide attack

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian bicycle rider detonated explosives near an Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip on today, killing himself and lightly injuring an Israeli soldier

A Palestinian bicycle rider detonated explosives near an Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip on today, killing himself and lightly injuring an Israeli soldier

Israel has been on high alert for possible terror attacks by Islamic militants.

The Israeli army commander in the Gaza Strip, Maj. Gen. Yomtov Samiya, said he believed the small Islamic Jihad faction was behind today's suicide bombing at the army outpost guarding the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader, Fathi Shekaki, in an operation widely blamed on Israeli commandos.

Samiya said Thursday's assailant apparently was a teen-ager. "He was riding his bike toward a school and hit a wall near the outpost and exploded," the general told Israel army radio. An Israeli soldier was lightly hurt.

Samiya held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority responsible, saying it has done nothing to prevent such attacks.

There has been growing concern in Israel about the new alliance between Arafat's Fatah faction and Islamic groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have carried out terror attacks in the past to sabotage peace efforts.

Palestinian officials have confirmed that committees with representatives of all factions hold daily meetings to direct the month-old Palestinian uprising.

However, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, has said the cooperation is limited to organizing rock-throwing confrontations with Israeli troops, and that Palestinian gunmen act on their own.

A leaflet circulated in the West Bank and signed by Fatah called on activists to carry out terror attacks in Israel. However, the West Bank's Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, said the leaflet was not authentic.

The attack came at a time of renewed contacts between Israeli and Palestinian security officials who, at the prodding of the United States, were trying to find a way to implement a U.S.-brokered truce agreement.

The fighting declined significantly Wednesday with no one killed for the first time in a week - but an Israeli general said it would take a few days to see if the clashes had truly subsided.

Clinton is trying to arrange separate meetings in Washington with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to assess prospects for returning to negotiations.

Israel said that if the fighting ebbed it would withdraw troops from friction points and look into resuming peace talks. Senior Palestinian officials have been in contact with Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami in recent days to discuss options for renewing negotiations, Israel TV's Channel Two reported.

Ben-Ami said Israel could envision returning to peace talks. Palestinian officials also said they didn't rule out a return to negotiations.

Barak, though, is still trying to woo Israeli hard-liner Ariel Sharon - who Palestinians warn would crush the peace process - into a coalition to bolster his minority government and prevent early elections.

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