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Suicide Bomber Kills Israeli Bus Passengers in Jerusalem

By Lee Hockstader
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Jerusalem

A young Palestinian suicide bomber boarded a nearly empty bus in northern Israel and blew it to pieces Thursday evening, killing himself and two Israelis and wounding the handful of other passengers. The bomb was so powerful that the bus was thrown into the air and its roof peeled back like the lid of a sardine can.

Another Israeli and two other Palestinians were killed in separate violence elsewhere Thursday, the latest in a chain of bombings, shootings, assassinations and mortar attacks that have convulsed Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in the last week as the Bush administration began its first major push for a cease-fire in months.

At least six Israelis and six Palestinians have been killed since Monday, when Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and special envoy Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine general, arrived here on a mission intended to nudge Israelis and Palestinians back toward negotiations.

The blast Thursday night, which ripped apart a bus traveling southwest from Nazareth to Tel Aviv near the town of Hadera, occurred while Zinni was meeting Palestinian security officials in the West Bank. Israeli officials said it proved that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to halt terrorism.

Arafat “wants to remain the recognized leader of all the Palestinians and therefore he will not act decisively against (the terrorist groups),” said Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “So I am not terribly optimistic about this (peace) mission” by the Americans.

In a written statement, the Palestinian Authority condemned the bus attack and said it “is working at full capacity to put an end to all sorts of attacks against Israeli civilians.”

Zinni also condemned the attack, saying in a statement that he conveyed his condolences to Sharon.

Arafat told the visiting Americans on Wednesday that he has instructed his security forces to take measures against militant groups that have carried out terrorist attacks against Israel. But he said his ability to squash the groups was hamstrung by the Israelis, who have carried out attacks on his security forces.

“The music is right from the Palestinian side, but we need action to go along with the music,” said a participant in the meeting.

Sharon departed late Thursday night on a scheduled trip to the United States, where he is to tour the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York and meet with President Bush at the White House. Before he left, he insisted that he will not relax his insistence on seven days of “absolute quiet” from the Palestinians before Israel embarks on a staged roadmap that could lead to renewed negotiations after two months or so.

Most independent analysts say that requirement is an impossibility given the violence that has gone on for 14 months, punctuated by only a few lulls.

But Sharon has been adamant, contending that Israel cannot start down the road toward peace talks while gunfire continues.