Archive for Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Mideast peace prospects take step forward, step back

Suicide bombing kills 4 just hours after Cabinet approved

April 30, 2003

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— The Palestinian parliament approved a new prime minister Tuesday, removing the last remaining obstacle for the launch of a U.S.-backed peace plan. But the historic event was followed within 12 hours by a suicide attack on a Tel Aviv bar that killed four people.

The bombing illustrated the challenge facing Mahmoud Abbas, who spoke out strongly against terrorism in presenting his Cabinet to the legislature. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but even as the parliament was meeting, the Islamic militant movement Hamas warned it had no intention of disarming or ending attacks on Israelis.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi said his group would "never drop its weapons and will not allow anyone to disarm it."

The bomb exploded about 1 a.m. today and blew the front off the seafront bar and demolished walls, doors and furniture inside, police said. A witness told Army Radio that a security guard at the bar prevented the bomber from entering. The dead included the bomber. It was the 89th suicide attack in 2 1/2 years of fighting.

The night spot features live music and stands on a promenade that runs for several miles along the Tel Aviv beach. The U.S. Embassy is nearby, but was not damaged and was apparently not a target.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said the Mideast peace process would move forward despite the violence.

"This despicable attack was undertaken by those opposed to the restoration of dialogue and the peaceful pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the region," she said in Washington.

The Palestinian parliament's approval of Abbas as prime minister fulfilled the last condition for launching the "road map," a plan that holds the first real hope of ending 2 1/2 years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting and renewing peace talks.

A girl in shock is comforted by a woman at the scene of a suicide
bombing at a beachfront restaurant in Tel Aviv. A huge explosion
early today wrecked a restaurant near the U.S. Embassy. Four
people, including the bomber, were killed in the blast.

A girl in shock is comforted by a woman at the scene of a suicide bombing at a beachfront restaurant in Tel Aviv. A huge explosion early today wrecked a restaurant near the U.S. Embassy. Four people, including the bomber, were killed in the blast.

The confirmation was approved 51-18, with three abstentions.

But even as the lawmakers gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah to confirm Abbas' Cabinet, Israeli troops killed three militants and a bystander.

In his inaugural speech, Abbas pledged to disarm militias, a promise that could set up a violent showdown between the Palestinian Authority and militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The Bush administration welcomed the approval of a new Palestinian leadership as a spur to peacemaking. "The president looks forward to working with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli government and the Israeli people to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

A senior U.S. State Department official said after the vote that the "road map" to Palestinian statehood would be unveiled soon, and a Mideast mediator said it could come by Thursday.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell will go to the area to begin trying to advance Palestinian statehood once the newly confirmed Cabinet begins its work.

In his first speech to parliament, Abbas stuck to traditional Palestinian positions toward Israel, but warned his people that "The unauthorized possession of weapons ... is a major concern that will be relentlessly addressed."

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