Rabin says bus atrocity will not halt peace talks

Jerusalem suicide bombing: PM refuses to bow to pressure to stop negotiations with PLO

ERIC SILVER

Jerusalem

Israel's government responded defiantly to its opponents on both sides yesterday after a second Palestinian suicide bus bombing in a month. The Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, vowed to step up the war on Islamic terror and to go on seeking peace with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Mr Rabin said last night that negotiations on extending Palestinian autonomy would resume after the funerals of yesterday's victims. This could bring the two sides back together before the end of the week.

"The policy of the government of Israel," he said, "is to continue the peace process with the Palestinian element, the PLO, that has stopped terrorism. This is a painful day, but it will not deter us from both fighting extreme Islamic terrorism and continuing the negotiations."

As if to confirm Mr Rabin's confidence in his moderation, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, condemned the bombing. His adviser, Ahmed Tibi, called it a betrayal of both Islam and the Palestinian nation.

A passenger, believed to have been a woman, blew herself up at the rear of a Jerusalem suburban bus in the morning rush- hour, killing herself and four others. One was named as Joan Dweiny, 46, a US citizen who had come to Israel to study Judaism. More than 100 passengers on two buses travelling close together were injured. Last night 26 were still in hospital, six in a serious condition.

The casualties included officers on their way to national police headquarters, government workers and foreign students attending summer courses at the Hebrew University. The explosion occurred on a double-length articulated bus outside a high school in the Ramat Eshkol district. The blast blew the windows out of a second, vehicle behind it.

The roof of the first bus was ripped off like the lid of a tin. Ambulance workers led and carried out the wounded, bleeding and dazed. Volunteers from an Orthodox Jewish burial society scooped up fragments of flesh and placed them in plastic bags, then gently recovered the bodies from inside the bus. A similar attack, by a still-unidentified male bomber, killed seven people on a Tel Aviv bus on 24 July.

In a broadcast from Damascus, Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, yesterday claimed responsibility for both bombings. It said it was waging a crusade against Mr Rabin and his Labour government.

The Prime Minister retorted: "They would like to see this government losing the elections because they know that we are the only government that will lead to peace."

Mr Rabin convened a 90-minute emergency meeting of security advisers in Jerusalem. They decided to restrict still further the entry of West Bank Palestinians to Jerusalem and other sensitive areas, as well as closing the border to Palestinian day-labourers from the Gaza Strip. They are also reported to have ordered 100 extra guards on Jerusalem buses.

But, for all their defiant talk, ministers are well aware that every bombing plays into the hands of the right-wing opposition to the Oslo peace process and makes the government's task harder. The Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, said yesterday: "It is impossible to go on negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organisation as if nothing had happened."

Dozens of protesters, most of them identified with the settler right, demonstrated at the site of the bombing. They waved banners saying, "Only the people will decide" and "This peace is killing us". When the Police Minister, Moshe Shahal, visited the wrecked buses, they yelled "Traitor" and "Murderer". Last night they blocked commuter traffic entering Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

After the July bombing, opinion polls suggested that Israelis were starting to take these attacks in their stride. But that time the interval since the previous bombing inside Israel was six months.

A second bombing in four weeks will increase the pressure on Mr Rabin to drive a hard bargain so as to convince voters that any new agreement does not expose them to unacceptable risks. But Mr Arafat will not yield easily. However committed the negotiators, yesterday's bomb must have diminished prospects of an early breakthrough.

Outrages that have marred the peace process

25 Feb, 1994: Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein sprays gunfire on Arab worshippers in a mosque in Hebron, killing at least 29.

6 April: Bus blast in Afula kills eight Israelis.

13 April: Bus blast in bus station in Hadera kills five.

10 Oct: Two Hamas guerrillas spray Jerusalem nightclub with automatic weapons, killing two Israelis.

14 Oct: Kidnapped Israeli soldier is killed during failed Israeli rescue attempt on a Hamas hideout.

19 Oct: Hamas bomber kills himself and 22 other people in suicide bomb attack on an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv.

2 Nov: Palestinian journalist Hani Abed, an Islamic Jihad activist, is killed when his car blows up in Gaza.

11 Nov: Palestinian cyclist from the Islamic Jihad movement kills himself and three Israeli soldiers.

22 Jan, 1995: Two Islamic Jihad suicide bombers kill 21 Israelis at Beit Lid in central Israel.

2 April: Mysterious explosion in Gaza City apartment kills several Palestinians.

9 April: Islamic militants kill seven Jews in two suicide bombings near Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

18 July: Two Israelis killed in the occupied West Bank

24 July: Suicide bombing on bus in suburb of Tel Aviv, claimed by Hamas, kills seven people.

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