After Bombings, Israel on High Alert

After two deadly Palestinian attacks in as many days, Israel on Thursday postponed talks with the Palestinians and halted plans to ease the army's tight restrictions on the West Bank.

A double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv Wednesday and a West Bank bus ambush the day before killed 14 people, including the two bombers. They were the first fatal attacks against Israeli civilians since June 20, when Israel sent forces into the West Bank after suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem.

Because of the attacks, Israel suspended the high-level talks with Palestinians that resumed just last week after a gap of several months.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met several Palestinian Cabinet ministers and discussed the easing of restrictions and other matters, but was banned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from taking up any issues that would be part of broader peace talks until violence stops.

Peres previously called off a meeting with a Palestinian minister because of the bus ambush. Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz would not say Thursday when talks would resume.

"When the time is right, we will meet," he said.

In Washington, President Bush promised to proceed with peacemaking between Israel and the Arabs despite fresh violence.

"We refuse to be discouraged," he said at the start of a White House meeting with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. "We are going to push for peace."

The Israelis said they will not ease the tight restrictions that have led to warnings of starvation and violent outbursts by Palestinians. In a statement after the Tel Aviv bombing, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer ordered a freeze on measures intended to ease restrictions.

The statement did not specify the measures. Israel was considering allowing 5,000 Palestinians into Israel to work — a number Peres said could increase to 50,000 — but that plan likely would be stopped because Israelis are concerned about Palestinians in their midst.

In recent days, the military lifted daylight curfews in some towns and cities under its control, allowing residents to leave their houses and stock up on food. There was no evidence the curfews were being tightened after the attacks.

The military announced that curfews in Ramallah, Jenin and Hebron would be lifted Thursday for 12 hours.

Nearly a month of curfews have idled workers and added further hardship to an already gloomy economic situation in the West Bank, where Israeli forces have clamped severe restrictions on Palestinian movement with roadblocks at the exits of cities, towns and villages and on many roads.

Israel has said the restrictions are needed for security, to stop attackers and to keep bombers out of Israel.

Palestinians claim the Israeli goal is to destroy the Palestinian economy and collapse the Palestinian Authority.

Despite the tight Israeli grip, two suicide bombers reached the middle of Tel Aviv and blew themselves up a few seconds apart, killing three other people — two foreign workers and an Israeli.

The bombers came from the Balata refugee camp next to Nablus, according to an announcement from a new group affiliated with Fatah, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's movement. The group, called Al-Nazir, or the warning, said the bombers were Mohammed Attala, 18, and Ibrahim Najie, 19.

One victim of the bombings was identified as Adrian Andas, 30, a laborer from Romania, police said. Many Romanian workers were among the 25 wounded still hospitalized.

The other foreign worker killed was from Asia, but police did not give his name. The Israeli victim's name also was not released Thursday.

The Palestinian Authority, headed by Arafat, condemned the bombing. Al-Manar, a Lebanese TV station, said it received a claim of responsibility from the Islamic Jihad. Israel blamed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

A day earlier, on Tuesday, Palestinians ambushed a civilian bus near a West Bank Jewish settlement, killing nine people, including two babies. The ninth victim, a woman, died in a hospital late Wednesday. In an intense manhunt for the attackers on Wednesday, a Palestinian gunman and an Israeli army officer were killed in a shootout.

On Thursday, two victims were buried — Gal Shilon, 30, and his 8-month-old daughter, Tiferet. Gal Shilon was shot dead by attackers after he raced to the scene to try to help. The baby's grandmother also was killed.

At the funeral under the hot Tel Aviv sun, Shilon's mother and two other women collapsed. Shilon's wife and the baby's twin, wounded in the ambush, did not attend.