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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 00:55 GMT
Mid-East talks end without truce
Rescue workers remove a victim from the bus
Seven passengers died in the rush-hour attack
A crucial meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs has ended with no apparent progress on implementing a ceasefire.

The latest talks came as US Vice-President Dick Cheney wound up a tour of the region without meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who remains confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah.

An Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman said another security meeting with the Palestinians would be held on Thursday or Friday.

I believe he [Arafat] can do a better job

George Bush
The talks, which were brokered by US Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni, were overshadowed by a Palestinian suicide bomb attack on a bus in northern Israel, killing seven people.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he viewed it as "very grave".

Speaking after the attack near the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahem, US President George W Bush said he was "frustrated" by the continuing violence.

Mr Bush said he felt Mr Arafat "can do a better job" at reining in Palestinian militants.

Truce hopes shaken

The suicide bombing came hours after the Palestinian Authority said it was "fully ready" to implement the US-brokered truce plan and steps towards resuming peace talks with Israel.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat is under intense pressure to enforce a truce
The Palestinian leadership urged Palestinians to "refrain from carrying out any operations against civilians inside Israel".

Mr Sharon said the bombing showed Mr Arafat had "not relinquished his policy of terrorism".

Israeli security sources said the Israeli leader was unlikely to retaliate in order to help Mr Zinni to secure a truce.

Suicide bombing

Four Israeli soldiers were among the seven passengers who died in the rush-hour bombing as the bus travelled from Tel Aviv to Nazareth.

The militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said one of its members, Rafat Abu Diyak, from the West Bank town of Jenin, carried out the attack on the bus. It was packed with soldiers, Israeli Arab labourers and other travellers.

About 30 people were injured in the explosion, which ripped the bus apart.

"There was a huge blast, and the bus kept moving about 30 metres and then stopped...", a passing motorist told Israel army radio.

The attack was the most lethal single incident since Mr Zinni arrived in the region last Thursday.

Saudi peace plan

As efforts to arrange a truce continued, the leaders of Egypt and Syria gave their backing to a Saudi Arabian plan to end decades of conflict between Israel and the Arabs.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Assad and Mubarak said they backed a Saudi peace plan
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Bashar al-Assad said they would seek a "unified stand" on the proposals at next week's meeting of the Arab League in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has said it will present its peace plan at the meeting as long as Mr Arafat is allowed to attend.

On Tuesday, Mr Sharon said Israel would decide whether to let the Palestinian leader out of the country for the meeting on 27-28 March if a truce held.

The plan offers Israel full peace with the Arabs if Israel withdraws from all territory claimed by the Arabs and Palestinians.

An earlier draft offering Israel normalisation of relations was changed on Syria's insistence.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"There is a lot of hard bargaining going on"
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Even the simplest bus ride means running a risk"
See also:

20 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney offers olive branch to Arafat
20 Mar 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Blast hits Israeli Arabs
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
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