Two Palestinian suicide bombings killed two Israelis - an 18-year-old army recruit and a 43-year-old father of two - and wounded 11 yesterday.
Israel blamed the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, for the first blast in a Rosh Ha'ayin shopping centre. Hamas acknowledged carrying out the second attack at a bus stop in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. This was the radical Islamist group's first open breach of the ceasefire it declared on 29 June.
The bombers were 17-year-olds from the West Bank town of Nablus, where Israeli commandos killed two Hamas operatives and destroyed an explosives laboratory on Friday.
Yesterday's attacks stiffened Israel's insistence that the Palestinian Authority (PA) must dismantle militant groups if it wants to advance the international "road-map" for peace. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, cancelled the release of 76 Palestinian prisoners. He said that for the peace process to continue "Palestinian terror must stop completely" and the PA must fulfill all its commitments.
Under the road-map, drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, the Palestinians agreed to "undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks against Israelis".
Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman, held the Palestinian leadership responsible for the bombings in Rosh Ha'ayin, a shabby town between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and in the settlement of Ariel. "This is the result of the inaction on the part of the Palestinian Authority," he said. "They have not dismantled terrorist organisations."
But Israel appears reluctant to retaliate in force for what are still seen as isolated attacks. Neither Mr Sharon nor his Palestinian opposite number, Abu Mazen, wants to be blamed for derailing the road-map. But Israel is refusing to evacuate any more West Bank towns until the PA acts.
Abu Mazen cut short a tour of the Gulf states and announced that he would be returning home. "I condemn the two attacks against Israelis," he said, "and I also condemn the recurring Israeli provocations." He added that his government would "work hard to maintain the truce and quiet".
Abu Mujahed, an al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade spokesman, said yesterday: "As long as there are Israeli violations of the hudna [ceasefire], there will be retaliations." He said Palestinian resistance would end only after Israel withdrew to the pre-1967 war borders.
Abdelaziz al-Rantisi, a Hamas political leader, hinted of further bombings. "The attacks are a response to the Zionist terror since the declaration of the hudna. Renewing the hudna while Zionist terrorism continues is a sign of weakness."Reuse content