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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 21:12 GMT
Violence mars US envoy's peace efforts
A bomb expert examines a vehicle in front of the bus where a suicide bomber set off his bomb in Jerusalem
Several passengers were hurt in the suicide bombing
Efforts by US envoy General Anthony Zinni to forge a ceasefire in the Middle East have been set back by a series of attacks in the region.

At least five people have died, and several others have been injured, in several incidents, including a shooting by a Palestinian gunman in the Israeli town of Kfar Saba, and a suicide bomb attack in north Jerusalem.

Israel has offered a ceasefire, pulled back most of its forces in good faith and this seems to be the answer Israel is receiving

Dore Gold
Adviser to Ariel Sharon
General Zinni sharply criticised the violence, which comes after a two-day lull in the bloodshed.

A trilateral meeting he had planned to hold with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday to discuss a ceasefire has not gone ahead.

But the general has continued to shuttle between the two sides, urging face-to-face talks.

And Israeli and Palestinian field commanders met for talks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday in what appeared to be a first step towards Israel's withdrawal from territories it recently occupied.

Gun attack

The first violence of the day came when a Palestinian gunman opened fire on passers-by in the centre of Kfar Saba, killing a young woman and wounding 15 other people.

Police photograph the body of the gunman
Witnesses said the gunman walked calmly down the road

The gunman was then shot dead by a lorry driver and officers from a nearby police station.

"I shouted at him to put his hands up, but he didn't," the lorry driver told Israeli army radio.

"So I fired one shot, hitting him in the head. Then two cops came and shot at him also."

Suicide bombing

Minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up beside a bus in a Jewish neighbourhood of north Jerusalem.

Some of the passengers on the mini-bus were hurt by flying glass, but no-one else was seriously injured.

General Zinni issued a statement saying it was "critical that the Palestinian Authority take responsibility and act against terror", but stressed that the violence would not deter his efforts for peace.

Commenting on the first attack, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said it showed the Palestinian leader's "bad faith" in efforts to secure a truce.

"Israel has offered a ceasefire, pulled back most of its forces in good faith and this seems to be the answer Israel is receiving," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Mr Sharon.

However Israel had already pulled out of the ceasefire meeting with General Zinni after the Palestinians demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from all Palestinian-controlled areas it has entered in the past two weeks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel could only completely withdraw if the Palestinians provided security guarantees.

Other violence

Meanwhile the violence continued. Another Palestinian died in an explosion just outside Jerusalem. Police believe he was carrying a bomb.

And in Bethlehem, clashes broke out between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinians, as Israeli tanks, which had withdrawn to the outskirts of the city on Friday, moved back towards the centre.

Palestinian security sources said a member of the radical Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had been killed in the incursion.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is conducting a tour of the Middle East, says he hopes General Zinni will have some positive news for him by the time he arrives in Israel on Monday.

The BBC's Richard Lister
"General Zinni is still pressing for peace"
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Anthony Zinni, the US mediator, is pushing very hard"
See also:

12 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel goes in hard
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Annan appeal brings mixed response
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's stay-at-home culture
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