Seven dead in frenzy of Middle East violence

 

A Palestinian suicide bombing, car bomb explosions at a major Israeli intersection and a West Bank shooting killed seven people today in a frenzy of violence that threatened efforts to convene truce talks.

The Palestinian Authority rejected Israeli allegations that it was responsible for the violence and issued a statement condemning all attacks on civilians and the missile strikes.

The start of the Israeli work week began with a Palestinian ambush of a van ferrying teachers to a school in a Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. A female teacher and the driver were killed in the shooting.

Two hours later, a suicide bomber killed himself and three other people at a train station in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya. Thirty-five people were wounded, Israeli officials said.

"He simply ran and exploded," Yaakov Borovsky, Israel's northern police chief told reporters, describing the seconds after a police officer challenged the bomber and asked him for identification.

The station was crowded with soldiers returning from weekend leave.

Three hours after the Nahariya blast, two car bombs exploded next to an empty Israeli bus at the busy Beit Lid junction, near the central city of Netanya. One person, who police said was apparently a bomber, was killed. The bus went up in flames.

Dozens of soldiers gather at Beit Lid on Sundays to await transportation back to their bases in the West Bank and elsewhere. In 1995, 21 people were killed at the intersection when two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up.

Overnight in the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian guerrilla and wounded another during an attempt to slip into Israel.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused Yasser Arafat of instigating the attacks during preparations for talks between the Palestinian leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

"This shows that while Arafat is talking about conducting negotiations and returning to the peace process...he's providing the support and the instigation for continuous terrorist activity," spokesman Raanan Gissin told Reuters.

"What should they talk about? The man doesn't want to talk - he wants to shoot," Mr Gissin said of Mr Arafat, adding that Israel would draw "the proper conclusions."

The Palestinian Authority said in its statement it "rejects completely Israeli allegations that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for what happened today."

The Palestinian leadership "condemns all operations that target Israeli and Palestinian civilians," it added.

Mr Peres said on Friday he and Mr Arafat planned to meet this week and hold two follow-up sessions to try to agree a truce in nearly a year of fighting since a Palestinian uprising erupted last September after peace talks stalled.

Mr Arafat's adviser, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the Palestinians would give their final response on holding talks with Mr Peres after an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo Sunday.

There have been 559 Palestinians and 163 Israelis killed in the bloodletting.

A decision on whether to go ahead with the Peres-Arafat meeting could be taken at a meeting later today of Mr Sharon's security cabinet.

The Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas, claimed responsibility for the Nahariya bombing, according to al-Jazeera satellite television, which broadcasts from Qatar.

"We do not trust any negotiations. The only option for our people is resistance," Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior Hamas official, told al-Manar, the television station of the Hizbollah organization in Lebanon, by telephone from Gaza.

Islamic Jihad said its gunmen attacked the van in the Jordan Valley. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Beit Lid blasts.