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Hamas Leader Arrested After Attempted Suicide Bombing

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
GUSH KATIF JUNCTION, Gaza Strip

Palestinian authorities placed the leader of the radical Islamic Hamas group under house arrest Thursday in the immediate aftermath of a deadly suicide bombing aimed at a school bus full of Jewish settler children.

One Israeli soldier and the Palestinian bomber were killed. The attacker crashed a car loaded with explosives into the school-bus convoy on an isolated road through the sand dunes of the Gaza Strip, but the bus's Israeli military escort took the brunt of the explosion.

The youngsters escaped, tearful but unharmed. Eight other people were injured, including three Bedouin children living nearby.

It was the first fatal car bombing in more than a year, and immediately tested a new and fragile Middle East peace accord. Israel has warned it will not hand over additional land to Palestinian control until the Palestinians combat terrorism effectively. Thursday's attack had the potential to freeze a peace process that was only just reviving.

The Clinton administration, which brokered the so-called Wye Plantation accord last week, condemned the bombing and welcomed the "close cooperation" of Israeli and Palestinian security forces investigating it. In fact, however, the two sides only narrowly averted a serious gun battle when Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinians said to be fleeing the scene. Palestinian police opened fire in response. Quick intervention halted the gunfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting a wounded soldier at a hospital, demanded the Palestinians fight terror. Under the Wye agreement, the Palestinians pledge to combat violence in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from another 13 percent of the West Bank.

"We regard with extreme severity the attempt to murder (dozens) of little children on their way to school," Netanyahu said. "This is the test of the (Wye) agreement, and we want to see the Palestinian Authority pass the test successfully. It's in the interest of peace."