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U.S. urges Wye implementation after terror attack in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, Nov. 8 (JTA) – U.S. officials have urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move ahead with the Wye agreement, despite a spate of terrorist attacks aimed at derailing the peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat last Friday, after a suicide bombing at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market wounded at least 21 Israelis. The two suicide bombers were the only fatalities. She reportedly appealed to them not to let the enemies of peace derail implementation of the Wye accord, which calls for Israel to transfer 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians in exchange for concrete actions against terrorism. The Israeli Cabinet, which was in session last Friday when the suicide bombers struck, immediately suspended its deliberations on the accord. The Cabinet later issued a statement that it would ratify the agreement only after the Palestinian Authority fulfills its security obligations under the accord. Just the same, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai predicted the Cabinet would convene in the coming days to resume discussion of the agreement. At a weekend rally, Netanyahu announced that Israel would continue to build in Jerusalem, including Har Homa. The start of infrastructure work in March 1997 at the controversial site in southeastern Jerusalem prompted a deadlock in the negotiations with the Palestinians that lasted 18 months. After Arafat denounced last Friday’s bombing, the Palestinian Authority launched a roundup of activists from Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Palestinian security officials said Sunday that the two bombers in the attack, identified as Yousuf Zageyeh, 22, and Suleiman Tahaineh, 23, were members of an Islamic Jihad cell from the Jenin area. The two, who were brothers-in-law, lived in West Bank villages under overall Israeli security responsibility and had served time in Israeli prisons for security offenses. The two were driving past the Mahane Yehuda market – which was crowded with pre-Sabbath shoppers – when explosions went off, setting the car on fire. Israeli security officials investigating the attack said it appeared that the bombs had exploded prematurely, and that this had prevented the death toll from being higher. Two Israeli border police who heard the first explosion and ordered people away from the car were honored Sunday for averting a far greater disaster. The Mahane Yehuda attack came a week after a car bombing in the Gaza Strip narrowly missed a school bus filled with children, but killed one Israeli soldier in a jeep that was escorting the bus. Mahane Yehuda was the site of an even bloodier attack in July 1997, when two suicide bombers claimed 16 victims and wounded 170 others.