Sharon Postpones U.S. Trip After Homicide Bombings

Published May 19, 2003

| FoxNews.com

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) put a trip to Washington on the back burner after back-to-back homicide attacks in Israel on Sunday.

One bomber killed seven passengers on a Jerusalem (search) bus, while the second bomber blew himself up on the city's outskirts, police said.

On that same day, one Palestinian man was shot and killed in the Gaza Strip (search) by Israeli and Palestinian security, authorities said.

A total of 23 people were wounded in the attacks, which took place just hours after the first Israeli-Palestinian summit in nearly three years between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search). The leaders failed to narrow their differences over a proposal to bring peace to the region, the so-called "road map" plan, including who would take the initial step to end the violence that has plagued the region for years.

U.S. officials and other foreign leaders are hoping Abbas, recently sworn in as the new Palestinian leader, will make greater efforts to restore peace than have been made in the past.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific terrorist bombing earlier today in Jerusalem that killed at least seven and wounded many more," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a statement Sunday, calling the attacks "despicable."

"We call on the Palestinians to begin to take immediate and decisive action to eradicate the infrastructure of terrorism and violence that has wrought such tragic bloodshed for both Palestinians and Israelis and has undermined Palestinian aspirations."

Sharon was scheduled to discuss a possible peace plan with President Bush in Washington. The trip has been postponed indefinitely. Instead, Sharon called a meeting with his Cabinet to address the violence.

A senior Sharon adviser, Raanan Gissin, hinted strongly that Israel would take action against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Several Cabinet ministers have been pushing for Arafat's expulsion.

"I would say that there's no reason why that (a possible expulsion) would not be raised and put on the table," Gissin said.

Sunday's bus bomber, disguised as an observant Jew with a skullcap and white prayer shawl, struck a few minutes before 6 a.m. at the beginning of morning rush hour on a work day in Israel.

The gush of metal and fire tore through the driver's leg, and as he lost control of the vehicle its back end fishtailed, smashing a sidewalk bus stop shelter. The bodies of the dead remained upright in their seats, including that of a woman with short dark hair whose head slumped back and whose legs were still crossed. One man's body leaned from a broken window.

The wounded included at least six Israeli soldiers returning to their bases after the weekend.

The Islamic militant group Hamas (search) did not issue a formal claim of responsibility, but Bassem Jamil Tarkrouri, a 19-year-old Hamas supporter in the West Bank city of Hebron, was identified by relatives as the assailant. Hamas has carried out scores of bombings since the outbreak of fighting more than two years ago.

Thirty minutes after the bus bombing, a second bomber blew himself up on the city's outskirts, apparently after he failed to penetrate road blocks set up after the first attack. No one else was hurt.

In the Gaza Strip (search) refugee camp of Khan Younis, Israeli troops shot and killed an 18-year-old Palestinian man, Israeli and Palestinian security sources said. The army said troops opened fire after a number of Palestinians tried to place an object near an army post. Palestinians said the man, identified as Ali Abu Namouss, was walking near his house when he was hit.

The attacks were part of a sudden surge in Palestinian assaults -- four in 12 hours -- including a bombing in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday night in which a homicide bomber killed an Israeli man and his pregnant wife. Also Saturday, two armed Palestinians tried to attack a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and were killed by soldiers.

The attacks appeared aimed at torpedoing the peace plan.

The Palestinians have accepted the road map -- a three-stage prescription for ending violence quickly and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005 -- and the Palestinian delegation to the summit asked Sharon to agree to it as well.

Sharon declined, saying he wants to discuss with Bush Israel's numerous reservations, including that the Palestinians end all violence.

Sharon and Abbas were scheduled to hold more talks after the Israeli prime minister's meeting with Bush. Sharon's office did not announce a new travel date to Washington.

"We are not facing the road map right now, we're facing the trail of blood and terror," Gissin said. "This map is a bloody map, not a map that leads to anything. If we were to accept the road map without reservations, you would have these kinds of terrorist actions almost every day."

But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ghassan Khatib said "the way out of this violence, which is hitting both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, is when the two sides, including the Israeli government, accept that the only game in town is the road map and start to implement it."

Sunday's bus bombing was the first such attack in Jerusalem since November. Since the current violence erupted in September 2000, 357 bystanders have been killed in 93 different homicide attacks.

Most attacks have been carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but recently the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, have taken responsibility.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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