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Rabin Lets Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Resume : Mideast: Negotiations were suspended after deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem. But prime minister seems determined to demonstrate that they cannot be derailed.

August 23, 1995|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — True to his word, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Tuesday let peace talks with the Palestinians resume as the last identified Israeli killed in Monday's bus bombing here was laid to rest.

Dozens of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, where they are trying to finish an agreement that will extend Palestinian self-rule throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The talks were suspended Monday after five people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a bomb exploded on a crowded bus in the morning rush hour.

Rabin ignored a call by President Ezer Weizman to abandon the current talks and move directly into final-status negotiations with the Palestinians on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Where is it written that these talks are the main thing?" Weizman said in an interview Tuesday in the Hebrew daily Maariv. "In my opinion, we should go straight to the permanent settlement."

Instead, Rabin seemed determined to demonstrate that the negotiations cannot be derailed and that he intends to conclude the final phase of "interim arrangements" with the Palestinians as quickly as possible.

The talks are supposed to produce an accord on an Israeli army redeployment out of parts of the West Bank populated mostly by Palestinians. The agreement will also include a framework for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

As the Eilat talks resumed, Israeli police were still trying to identify two bodies from Monday's blast. Police spokesman Eric Bar Chen said that parts of a woman's and a man's body were recovered from the bus bombing site. He said that police were still uncertain whether one of the two was the bomber.

"There is always a possibility that neither one of them was a terrorist" and that the bomb was placed under a seat, Bar Chen said. "The two bodies we have are more or less made up of various parts of bodies that were pulled out of the spot where the blast occurred."

Several foreign tourists who were on their way to Jerusalem's Hebrew University to attend summer courses were among those wounded in the blast, and one American tourist was killed, Bar Chen pointed out. "These two [unidentified bodies] could also have been tourists, for all we know," he said.

Hamas, a militant Islamic movement, on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was a suicide bombing carried out by one of its activists, whom it identified as a man.

But the group did not release the name of the bomber, as it has done after earlier such attacks. Hamas also did not claim responsibility for the most recent previous suicide bombing--a July 24 incident involving a bus in a Tel Aviv suburb that killed six people. Israeli officials remain convinced that Hamas carried out that attack, but the bomber still has not been identified.

Islamic militants have carried out a series of bombings that have killed 77 people here since Israel signed its September, 1993, framework peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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The attacks have undermined support for the peace process among Israelis but also weakened support in Gaza and the West Bank for Islamic extremists. The Palestinian Authority has arrested dozens of Hamas leaders in recent months; some remain jailed, awaiting trial in Palestinian security courts.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have each made a point of blaming Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group that has carried out attacks, for Israel's policy of refusing admittance to workers from the West Bank and Gaza for days, even weeks, after every attack.

One Palestinian analyst said Tuesday that both its waning public popularity and fear of retaliation by Israeli and Palestinian security forces have made Hamas stop naming its suicide bombers.

"Not naming the perpetrators is mostly for the security of the movement," said Zuhair Dibi, a PLO activist in the West Bank town of Nablus with close ties to Islamic groups. Because of its practice of identifying the suicide bombers, Dibi said, "Hamas has been losing not only the perpetrators but others behind the action."

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When an attacker is identified, he said, if the family lives in an area controlled by Israel it is put under surveillance and sometimes punished. And Israeli and Palestinian intelligence services will often arrest friends and associates of a bomber once his identity is known.

"Hamas has learned a lesson: to close the doors to Israeli and Palestinian intelligence, to make it harder for both to inflict damage through arrests on the movement and those close to its members," Dibi said.

In its claim of responsibility Monday, issued from a Palestinian rejectionist radio station in Syria, Hamas said its goal in the bombings is ambitious--it wants to ensure that Rabin is defeated in Israel's next national elections.

"The government of the Zionist enemy will pay the price of the comprehensive war it has waged against Islam and the Muslims everywhere," the communique said. The military wing of Hamas will continue to carry out attacks, the communique said, "from now until the time of the Zionist elections."

Tourism Minister Uzi Baram told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Hamas' chances of influencing Israel's elections come down to a matter of timing: "If there's a terrorist attack during the elections week, we are likely to lose. Anyone who says that terrorist attacks do not hit the government--the government's public support and its popularity--is wrong."

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