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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 12:47 GMT
Israel on the defensive
Ultra-orthodox Jews at scene of Jerusalem bombing
More than 1,200 have died in 17 months
By the BBC's Rachel Harvey

The pattern of attack and counter-attack is depressingly familiar.

And this latest round of violence comes just as some small hope had been kindled over a new peace proposal put forward by Saudi Arabia.

On the face of it, all outside efforts to end the conflict seem doomed to failure.

Israeli soldier
Israeli operations inside Palestinian refugee camps were condemned
And yet, both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian leadership are sensitive to international, as well as domestic, opinion.

Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority was quick to condemn Saturday's suicide bombing, although a militant group linked to his own Fatah faction said it was responsible.

The attack, in West Jerusalem, does seem to run counter to what appeared to be a new strategy on the part of Palestinian militants.

A consensus had been emerging that attacks should be restricted to the West Bank and Gaza Strip - areas occupied by Israel in 1967.

Sunday morning's attacks at Israeli checkpoints may be an attempt to reinforce that message.

Targeting Israeli civilians within Israel proper risks undermining international support for the Palestinian cause.

And that support has recently begun to swing their way. Recent Israeli military operations inside two Palestinian refugee camps were roundly condemned by the United Nations and the European Union.

The Israeli army now says it has pulled out, but 20 Palestinians were left dead.

Domestic pressure

Criticism of the Israeli tactics has also been growing domestically.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has failed to deliver the security he promised and, for the first time, opinion polls show his approval rating falling below 50%.

But there is no sign yet that the Israeli leader is willing to change his hardline policies.

Neither side seems able to end the violence; instead both are concentrating on the most effective way to respond to each new incident.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Childs
"The violence is in danger of spiralling out of control"
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"It was a loud explosion that rocked Jerusalem"
Arie Mekel, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman
"More than 30 people were injured in this murderous attack"
Marwan Kanafani, Palestinian Authority
"We have always condemned the killing of civilians"
Graham Usher from The Economist
"Sharon seems to be walking down the middle"
See also:

03 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Jerusalem bombing
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Blast strikes Israel's most religious
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