Car bomb rocks Israeli city ahead of security talks
JERUSALEM (AP) – A car bomb that exploded outside a high school in the coastal city of Netanya on Wednesday caused no serious injuries but threatened to unravel a newborn U.S. effort to put a lid on eight months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
Students at the Ort technical high school had finished an exam and left just 10 minutes before the bomb went off in front of the building, sending pieces of metal flying in all directions.
Hospital officials said at least six people were treated for shock and hearing problems caused by the blast. Police said some of those injured were youths, although none were students at the school.
The radical Islamic Jihad Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the blast.
Netanya, on Israel’s seacoast north of Tel Aviv, is just nine miles from the West Bank and is a frequent target for Palestinian bombers. On May 18, a suicide bomber hit a mall there, killing himself and five Israelis.
The latest bombing, on the day two Israelis killed in a Palestinian drive-by shooting attack were buried, darkened the atmosphere around a renewed U.S. effort to quell the violence.
Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met in Gaza late Wednesday for the second time this week in an effort to improve security coordination.
Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek el-Majaidah, chief of Palestinian public security in Gaza, said afterward that the Palestinians demanded that Israel remove restrictions and evacuate eight Palestinian houses seized in Gaza in the past month.
Israel demanded an end to Palestinian violence and terrorism, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry, which said the talks would continue next week. Both sides said the meetings would continue next week.
U.S. officials canceled a Wednesday meeting with Palestinians about implementing the report of an international commission aimed at stopping the violence, said an official close to the negotiations.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Americans were unhappy that the Palestinians had sent only mid-level security officials to Tuesday’s security meeting, the first such get-together in several weeks.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz declined to comment on the talks.
Farouq Qaddoumi, the head of the political department of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization but a bitter enemy of peace with Israel, called for Palestinians to attack U.S. and European interests in the Middle East.
In a statement quoted by the Al-Hayyat al-Jadida daily, which has close ties to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, Qaddoumi said the Palestinians have condemned U.S. and European policies. ”When we condemn, the masses should translate the condemnation into action,” he said.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there can be no division between discussions about improving security and advancing political talks, especially a halt to construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
”To stop violence means lifting the closure (on Palestinian territories), stopping all settlement activities, implementing signed agreements and resuming (peace) negotiations,” he said, listing Palestinian demands of Israel.
Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said that in previous talks with the Americans, the Palestinians made it clear that the subject of halting construction in the settlements is not a matter for negotiation. ”This issue should be implemented immediately,” he said.
The Bush administration again on Wednesday leaned on Arafat to rein in Palestinian terrorists and on Israel to halt settlement activity.
Arafat ”really needs to call on his people to stop the violence,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, responding to the Netanya bombing.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker also pressed Arafat to stop terrorist attacks on Israelis. Turning to Israel, he said ”continued settlement activity is a provocative activity and inflames an already volatile situation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under withering criticism from Jewish settlers, once his most enthusiastic supporters, for calling what Israel termed a unilateral cease-fire last week. Palestinians have dismissed the policy – in which Israel says it is initiating no actions beyond self-defense – as a publicity stunt.
At the funeral of one of the victims of a drive-by shooting in the West Bank on Tuesday, Shlomo Riskin, a New York rabbi who moved to the settlement of Efrat in 1983, blasted Sharon’s policy.
”A unilateral cease-fire is surrender,” he thundered. ”It is forbidden for us to surrender to evil.”
The family of the other victim, Sarah Blaustein, 53, an immigrant from Lawrence, N.Y., asked the government not to send a representative to her funeral because of its policy of restraint in the struggle with the Palestinians.
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