Israel Resumes Talks with PLO Despite Hamas Suicide Bombing

One day after Hamas terrorists made their latest attempt to detail the peace process, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed in Eilat.

With negotiators once again attempting to hammer out an accord for extending Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin lived up to his vow Monday to continue the negotiations with the Palestinians despite the latest terror attack.

“The time has come to distinguish between Palestinians who are the enemies of peace and those who seek a negotiated agreement, to distinguish who are the murderers among the Palestinians,” Rabin said in remarks to the Israeli public just hours after a suicide bomb ripped through two commuter buses in Jerusalem.

At least five people were killed, including an American woman and the suicide bomber, and more than 100 were injured in Monday’s attack.

The bombing came one day after Israel reopened the Gaza Strip, which had been closed for 10 days after Israel received intelligence reports that fundamentalist terrorists were planning a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

Israel reimposed a closure on Gaza, as well as on the West Bank, shortly after Monday’s bombing. The closure was expected to remain in effect until at least Wednesday.

Although Rabin did not waver in his resolve to continue the talks, he temporarily suspended the negotiations until after the victims’ funerals.

Among the opposition, however, leaders called for an abrupt end to the talks. And within hours of the bombing, demonstrators were out on the streets, both in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, sharply attacking the Rabin government’s peace policies.

Monday’s attack drew sharp words of criticism from Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

In a speech at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, Arafat lashed out at Iran for funding the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

“Your money, your bombs and your oil have not regained an inch of our land for us,” Arafat said, addressing Iran.

“I will cut the hand of anyone who takes orders from parties outside the Palestinian arena or anyone who receives external financing, be it from Iran or others,” Arafat said.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres applauded Arafat’s stance, saying that the Palestinians “know that terror is aimed against them, not only against us, that if there is something that can stop the Palestinian hopes and destiny, it is Palestinian terror.”

The bombing also drew criticism from world leaders, including President Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and leaders of the European Union.

Among the victims of the attack on the No. 26 bus in northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol was an American tourist, Joan Davenny. Two Americans were among the wounded, according to the U.S. State Department.

Davenny was a teacher at a Jewish school in Woodbridge, Conn., who was spending the year in Israel on a special program for Jewish educators.

Two of the others killed were Noam Eisenman, 35, and Rivka Cohen, 26, both of Jerusalem.

Cohen, a student volunteer at Hadassah Hospital, was buried in Jerusalem on Monday night; Eisenman, a police officer, was buried Tuesday.

Of the more than 100 people injured in the attack, 27 remained in local hospitals Tuesday, where three people were said to be in serious condition and one in critical condition.

Two other bodies, one male and the other female, have not yet been identified.

Jerusalem police said late Monday that they believed that the male corps could be that of the bomber’s.

But there was also speculation that the bomber was a woman. Israel Radio reported that a 20-year-old resident of the village of Azaria, located outside Jerusalem, had been missing from her home since the night before.

After the attack, Rabin held consultations with security advisers to discuss measures that could be taken to fight terror.

At a news conference afterward, Rabin said that when the lives of Jews and Palestinians were so intermingled, it is nearly impossible to prevent such terror attacks from happening.

And on Tuesday, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that unless Palestinian security efforts are totally effective, he doubted that arrangements to prevent terror would ever work.

Shahak was quoted by officials as saying that security would be much more difficult to enforce once Israeli troops pulled out from Arab population centers in the West Bank – which is scheduled to take place once the next phase of Palestinians self-rule is implemented.

He was quoted as saying that any kinds of pre-emptive measures, which rely heavily on intelligence, would be particularly difficult.

Monday’s attack occurred shortly before 8 a.m., as the Egged bus was en route to the Mount Scopus campus of The Hebrew University.

As it passed through an intersection in front of the Rene Cassin High School in Jerusalem’s Ramot Eshkol neighborhood, the blast went off.

A second bus that was passing by was also hit by the explosion.

Police said the suicide bomber was sitting toward the back of the bus when a pipe bomb, weighing about 9 to 13 pounds an packed with nails, was detonated.

Police said the bomb was similar to others built by Yehia Ayash, a Hamas fugitive nicknamed “The Engineer” who was suspected by Israeli authorities of masterminding previous attacks.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks that have killed 89 Israelis and wounded more than 372 others since the signing of the self-rule accord in Washington in September 1993.

The force of Monday’s blast blew out the bus windows, and twisted and scorched its frame. The exteriors of both buses were blackened by smoke from a five caused by the blast.

Emergency medical teams began evacuating victims shortly after the blast, taking the wounded to Jerusalem area hospitals.

Members of the Chevra Kadisha burial society also arrived, collecting fragments of human flesh for burial.

Shortly after the explosion, angry crowds gathered at the site, shouting, “We want revenge” and “Rabin is a traitor”.

The unrest took on near-riot proportions when President Ezer Weizman visited the site to “identify with the pain of the people.”

Instead, he was quickly hustled away, surrounded by border police guards and bodyguards, after his appeals to restore calm were drowned out by the angry crowd.

Weizman later visited the wounded in the hospital, where he said the current situation required the Rabin government to do some serious rethinking of its policies.

“I’ve said it once before; we have to reassess the situation,” Weizman told reporters. “The issue isn’t just whether to continue to talks or not, but something more complex: How do we continue, not just in the direction of an interim agreement, but toward a permanent settlement, and make sure that in return such things won’t happen again?”

By noon, the main boulevard where the blast had occurred had been reopened to traffic.

Opposition reaction to the attack was swift, with right-wing leaders, calling for an immediate halt to the peace negotiations.

But Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu also called on the public to show restraint, despite its outrage.

He said the Likud would support the Rabin government only of it stopped the talks.

“I don’t think the government understands that you cannot continue talks with the PLO as if nothing happened,” he told Israel Radio.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert of Likud said the attack proved that security arrangements were inadequate.

“I am very distressed and we will have to reconsider our attitude toward the entire security arrangements, and possible implications for future agreement on the security of Jerusalem,” he said.

“There was an illusion that the government was capable of sealing Jerusalem out of any penetration. I think it’s quite obvious now that it’s impossible,” Olmert added.

Demonstrations against the peace process took place at different intersections throughout the country Monday night.

In Jerusalem, water cannons were used at some sites to disperse the crowds.

Although a number of issues remained unresolved, talks on expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank have made significant progress in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the two sides signed a partial accord on the next phase of self-rule, including setting up a timetable for an Israel Defense Force redeployment in the West Bank.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators who resumed their meetings in Eilat were reportedly planning around-the-clock discussions in an effort to conclude an agreement as soon as possible.

In Washington, plans were under way for a White House signing ceremony of the interim phase agreement in early September.

In Eilat, working groups were trying to overcome differences in the main areas of contention: water rights, security arrangements in Hebron and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Although the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were suspended Monday after the bus bombing, Agriculture Minister Yakov Tsur and Palestinian delegation head Abu Alla met Monday morning to discuss water rights.

Tsur had joined the talks this week in the hope that upgrading them to a ministerial level could yield some forward movement.

But after his discussion with Abu Alla, he said there was no progress.

According to Tsur, the Palestinians stood fast in their demand that their rights to the aquifers and the Jordan River sources be declared now. Israel proposed putting off the actual definition of water rights until the permanent- status talks, focusing instead of dealing with specific problems surrounding water supplies during the interim phase of self-rule.

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