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Attack 2 Days Before Peace Talks Leaves 2 Israelis Dead, 5 Injured

Two days before the Middle East peace conference was to open in Madrid, Palestinian terrorists struck viciously, killing two Israelis and wounding five in a bus ambush in the West Bank.

The attack took place at 6:30 Monday evening, near the Tapuach junction, about three miles south of Nablus.

Gunmen fired automatic weapons at the vehicle, fatally wounding the driver and a passenger. Both died en route to hospitals in Tel Aviv.

One seriously injured youth was hospitalized at Hadassah-Hebrew University Hospital in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. His condition was not immediately known.

The attack followed threats by various Palestinian extremists to sabotage the conference.

The bus was carrying Jewish settlers to a mass rally in Tel Aviv in opposition to Israel’s participation in the peace conference with Arab states and Palestinians that opens Wednesday in Madrid. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is heading the Israeli delegation to the talks.

Word of the attack reached the rally, at which scores of thousands of demonstrators observed a minute’s silence in memory of those who had just been killed.

When the news reached the demonstrators, thousands more poured into Malchei Yisrael Square, outside City Hall, crying for revenge.

Police reinforcements blocked access roads to prevent rioting.

The rally was described as “electric, somber and angry.” Speakers decried the murderous attack, which they called a clear indication that the Palestinians and Arab states do not really want peace. They warned that Israel should not fall into the Arabs’ trap.

NEAR-MISS REPORTED OUTSIDE HAIFA

A typical reaction came from a National Religious Party politician, who demanded that Israel refuse talk to any Palestinians who do not immediately dissociate themselves from the bus ambush and similar terrorist attacks.

He accused Hanan Ashrawi, spokesperson for the six-member Palestinian advisory panel going to Madrid in an unofficial capacity, of inciting an escalation of the intifada.

Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan of the Tsomet faction said the attack exposed the true intentions of the Arabs. Eitan was the only minister of the far right to vote for participation in the conference, on grounds that Shamir could be trusted to make no concessions.

Yuval Ne’eman, leader of the Tehiya party, who voted against the conference, demanded that 100 new settlements be built in the territories for every ambush victim.

Uri Ariel, secretary of the Jewish settlers association in the territories, denounced Palestinian activist Faisal Husseini as the “brain and mouth” behind the attack.

Husseini, who has been one of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s principal contacts with the Palestinians during the last six months, leads the advisory group going to Madrid. Israel ruled him out as a negotiating partner because he lives in East Jerusalem and is also believed to have strong ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Earlier Monday, a pickup truck tried to run down three women soldiers waiting at a hitch-hiking shelter at Tirat Hacarmel, outside Haifa. They jumped to safety as the vehicle bore down on them. Police set up roadblocks and are searching for two young men seen in the truck.

An Israel Defense Force soldier was seriously wounded Sunday by a heavy brick dropped on him in the Nablus casbah.

Although the peace conference is supported by the local Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and by Yasir Arafat’s Fatah wing of the PLO in Tunis, Palestinian radicals are committed to derail it.

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