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Attack on soldiers’ bus adds to Israeli-Palestinian tensions

JERUSALEM, April 2 (JTA) — Israeli-Palestinian tensions rose another notch this week after a gasoline bomb was hurled at an Israeli bus in the West Bank. The bus was transporting Israeli soldiers to serve as guards at Jewish settlements. Wednesday’s attack, which occurred near Ramallah, caused the bus to catch fire. The driver lost control of the vehicle, which tumbled over an embankment. Eleven troops were wounded, most of them lightly. They were treated for fractures and bruises at Jerusalem hospitals. In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Palestinian police were reported to have arrested some 30 Islamic Jihad activists in connection with Tuesday’s two unsuccessful suicide bombings near the Gush Katif settlement bloc. In both instances, no Israelis were nearby when the bombers blew themselves up. The two bombers were among eight recruited by Islamic militants to carry out attacks against Israel, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported. A senior Israeli military source said Wednesday that Islamic militant groups had decided to step up their terrorist activities to retaliate for Israel’s decision last month to start construction of the new Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem. An anonymous caller phoned Israeli news organizations Tuesday night and claimed responsibility for the two bombings in the name of an Islamic Jihad-affiliated cell known as “Jabal Abu Ghenaim” — the Arabic name for Har Homa. The Palestinian Authority had initially maintained Tuesday that one of the bombers had been killed by Israeli troops. But on Wednesday, news agencies quoted relatives of the bombers as saying that they had links to Islamic Jihad. The Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza issued a statement Wednesday denying any involvement by the group in the two explosions. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat has said he is willing to begin accelerated final-status talks, as Israel has proposed, but under certain conditions. The European Union’s Middle East envoy, Miguel Angel Moratinos, conveyed the message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. “I spoke with Arafat and he said he would agree to accelerate the final-status talks as Israel has requested, but other matters must also be dealt with,” Moratinos said. He said Arafat had four main conditions: “The framework of the Oslo process must not be broken, the Har Homa problem must be resolved, Israel must freeze its settlement activity and avoid taking unilateral steps in the future.” Foreign Minister David Levy, addressing diplomats Wednesday, said Israel is interested in moving to the final-status talks, but the Palestinians must first act against terror. He said an atmosphere of trust was required to make the negotiations effective.