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Israel Stops Peace Talks to Bury Dead from Tel Aviv Bus Attack

By Mary Curtius
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM

Tuesday was supposed to be the day that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators gathered ceremoniously on the White House lawn and signed another peace accord.

Instead, Israelis spent the day burying the five elderly victims of the latest terrorist attack. None of the dead was younger than 60, and the eldest was an 80-year-old man who had been on his way to the beach when the bomb exploded.

As Israelis mourned, Palestinians wondered how much Monday's bombing of a Tel Aviv-area bus would set back the oft-delayed extension of Palestinian self-rule.

"At least this time, the Israelis did not blame us," said Nabil abu Rudaineh, spokesman for Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat. "At least this time, they were fair about it," he said.

In fact, Rabin and Police Minister Moshe Shahal praised the Palestinian self-governing authority Monday for its efforts to crack down on Islamic militants in Gaza.

But if Israel's government did not blame the Palestinian Authority for Monday's bombing, Israeli opposition politicians and many Israelis felt differently. A majority of Israelis who answered an opinion poll Tuesday said he government should respond to Monday's bombing by abandoning peace talks with the Palestinians.

Rabin vowed, however, that talks will continue until the two sides reach agreement on a planned redeployment of Israeli troops and the holding of Palestinian elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

Rabin did cancel Tuesday's negotiations, saying it would be inappropriate to meet again until the dead were buried. And he canceled a planned live television broadcast with Jordan's King Hussein and President Clinton.

The three leaders were supposed to have marked the one-year anniversary of the accord that Israel and Jordan signed on the White House lawn, an agreement that served as the basis of the peace treaty they signed in October.

But Palestinian and Israeli officials spent much of the day privately haggling over the venue and date for resuming their talks. Israel would like to move the talks to Europe, but Arafat wants them in Cairo.

Both sides said they expect to resume their work, somewhere, by Thursday, at the latest. "We are in a hurry, because it is more than one year that our elections and their redeployment have been delayed," said Abu Rudaineh.

Health Minister Ephraim Sneh, who was meting in Gaza with Arafat on Monday when the bus bombing occurred, agreed, saying: "We are now in a stage where we have already traveled a long distance in this bumpy and steep road to agreement. We can't stop the car, we have to continue."