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Bombing, air strike rattle Middle East peace hopes
( 2003-12-26 09:28) (Agencies)

A Palestinian suicide bombing that killed four people in Israel and a helicopter strike which killed a top Islamic militant and four other Palestinians dealt a double blow to hopes of reviving a Middle East peace plan.

The Israeli government said Thursday's attack outside Tel Aviv, the first big suicide bombing in almost three months, showed Palestinians were ever ready to strike in the heart of the Jewish state.

The scene of a suicide attack at a bus station near Petakh Tikvah, on the northeastern outskirts of Tel Aviv. At least four people were killed, including the apparent suicide bomber.  [AFP]
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie called for total calm to help a beleaguered U.S.-led "road map" for peace, but militants vowed bloody revenge for the helicopter strike that killed the commander of Islamic Jihad's military wing.

"The assassination of the chief leader of the Jerusalem Brigades will not pass without a deterrent, a strong and an earthquake-like response," an Islamic Jihad statement said.

The attacks, within less than an hour of each other, shattered a period of relative calm that had rekindled hopes of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on a peace plan already stalled by a cycle of bloodshed and revenge.

The militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the bombing, calling it revenge for Israeli raids last week on the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israeli police said the Palestinian bomber killed three women and one man at a bus stop on the highway out of the coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv. In the last previous big suicide attack, on October 24, a bomber killed 23 people.


An official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said the latest bombing was "another indication that the Palestinian Authority's terrorist infrastructure is always just one step away from lashing out at Israeli civilians."

Israeli authorities say the spell of calm is an illusion and that they has foiled some two dozen would-be suicide bombers recently. After Thursday's bombing, it stepped up an already tight blockade on the West Bank and Gaza.

A military spokeswoman said the army would decide on Friday how to allow out hundreds of pilgrims who have flocked to the West Bank city of Bethlehem for Christmas.

Israel's defense minister said Meqled Hmaid was killed in a missile strike in Gaza was because he was planning a "mega terror attack." One other militant died in the attack. Three civilians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, medics said.

Militant factions have so far rebuffed efforts by Egypt to secure a cease-fire with Israel and revive the U.S.-backed "road map" meant to lead to a Palestinian state by 2005.

Condemning both Thursday's attacks, Palestinian premier Qurie called for "immediate resumption of the road map, including the implementation of mutual obligations, the first of which is stopping the cycle of violence."

Contacts have been building to arrange a summit between Qurie and Sharon, but the Palestinians shelved the last meeting to discuss preparations after an Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip left nine dead on Tuesday.

Sharon has said he is committed to the peace plan, but has warned that if it fails he will take unilateral separation steps that would cost Palestinians land they want for a state.

The Palestinian news agency quoted President Yasser Arafat as saying Israeli military raids, the building of a barrier in the West Bank and closure of the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem showed the Israelis "do not want peace."

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