Suicide bomber kills one, injures 10 bystanders at station

Friday, April 25, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Israel will invite Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas to Jerusalem to discuss restarting the peace process once a new Palestinian Cabinet is in place, an Israeli official said Thursday.

Palestinian officials said that Abbas would agree to meet with Israel's leaders and affirmed that the Palestinian Authority would accept a U.S.-backed peace plan.

Israel, however, wants changes in the plan, including a stop to all violence as a precondition for other steps.

Underscoring that challenge, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed a guard and injured 10 bystanders in a rush-hour attack at an Israeli train station on Thursday.

A breakaway faction of a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Kfar Saba, near the West Bank. Abbas told Israel's Channel 10 that he condemned the bombing and said "we oppose all such attacks."

On Wednesday, Arafat and Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, reached an accord on a Palestinian Cabinet. A Palestinian parliament vote on the new government is expected within a week.

The United States and Israel hope the formal establishment of Abbas' government will amount to a means of sidelining Arafat, whom they accuse of links to terrorism and failing to crack down on militias.

President Bush on Thursday also presented an invitation to Abbas, saying he would ask him to the White House.

"I look forward to working with him," Bush said in Washington.

The White House affirmed that once the Palestinian parliament has approved Abbas' Cabinet, the peace plan -- a joint effort by the so-called Quartet of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- will be formally presented.

The plan calls for an end to all violence and a full Jewish settlement freeze in the West Bank and Gaza. It would also demand that all settlements built after 2001 be dismantled.

Those actions could be followed, as early as this year, by the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are to be decided in later stages.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Thursday that if the Palestinian legislature approves the new Cabinet, "the prime minister intends to invite the Palestinian prime minister to a discussion on ways to reach a cease-fire and restart the peace process."

But Israeli government officials warned the road to peace could be long, especially because of terror attacks like Thursday's bombing.

"This attack makes it clear, I think, more than anything else that we cannot act on two tracks in parallel -- one track of terrorism and a second track of negotiations," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.

In a series of incursions over the past year, Israel has reoccupied most Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. A senior Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said there would be no pullout "if there is not a 100 percent effort against terrorism" by Abbas' government.

Former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who heads a key security post in the new Cabinet, has said he will not hesitate to crack down on Palestinian militant groups, a position that has earned him the backing of the United States and Europe.

"I think that all the security obligations emanating from the road map will be respected," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Thursday.

Asked about the Israeli government offer, Erekat replied, "Abu Mazen of course will meet with the Israelis, but the most important thing is for the Quartet to introduce the road map immediately with implementation timelines and monitors."

"It is essential, because I haven't heard from any Israeli in this Cabinet yet the simple sentence that 'We accept the roadmap unconditionally.' If they don't accept the road map, then the whole thing is in trouble."

Arafat on Wednesday withdrew his opposition to Dahlan's appointment in exchange for assurances that he would be consulted on major security decisions.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials also said that Arafat backed down in exchange for guarantees regarding his personal safety and was told Egypt would ask Israel to lift a travel ban on him.

But on Thursday, Sharon's office released a statement saying that Israel "has not in any way, shape or form" made any promises "relating to the place of residence, conditions of office or safeguarding the future of Arafat."

Several Israeli Cabinet ministers have called for Arafat's expulsion from the West Bank, an idea Washington opposes.

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