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Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 18:46 GMT

World: Middle East

Barak: Blasts will not stop talks

More than 20 people were wounded by the explosions

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak has vowed to crack down on those trying to disrupt the peace process after more than 20 people were wounded by bomb blasts in northern Israel.

Middle East
Police in the coastal resort of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, said three pipe bombs blew up simultaneously next to a rubbish bin on a main street and a fourth was made safe.

Two of the victims were seriously hurt; the rest suffered light injuries. Police later discovered another device which had failed to explode.

The wounded were taken to two local hospitals.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports: "The bomb is a reminder that peace isn't here yet"
A Palestinian man and a woman were arrested after witnesses identified one of them as having planted at least two of the devices, Netanya police chief David Sadeh told Isareli army radio.

The authorities say they suspect a political motive for the attack. The blasts come on the eve of intensive negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians on the final stage of the peace process.

Mr Barak said the government was determined to smash terrorism and called on the Palestinian Authority to act to prevent militants damaging the peace process.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Hilary Andersson: "Difficult times ahead for peace process"
BBC Jerusalem correspondent Hilary Andersson says this is the third time in recent months that there has been a violent attack on the eve of major peace talks - a sign that the would-be peacemakers face a difficult time ahead.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Hamas threat

[ image:  ]
On Saturday, Israeli media reported that the militant Islamic Hamas movement had issued a leaflet threatening attacks against Israeli citizens.

But immediately after the blast, Hamas distanced itself from the bombing.

"We are not sure of the source or the veracity of the statement. We cannot therefore be linked to the operation," Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told reporters in Gaza.

Mr Barak said that he took a "grave" view of the attack in Netanya.

"The government under my leadership is determined to foil terrorism and will do all it can to stop threats on the peace and well being of Israeli citizens," he said in a statement.

[ image: Sheikh Yassin distanced Hamas from the bombing]
Sheikh Yassin distanced Hamas from the bombing
Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh said the Netanya attack would not stop Monday's talks.

"If we do that, we are doing the bidding of the terrorists. They laid a pipe bomb and with one primitive bomb they would have stopped an entire peace process," he said.

Palestinian chief negotiator for the talks Yasser Abed Rabbo said: "We condemn this act which harms the atmosphere as we prepare to begin final status negotiations."

Controversial issues

The talks in Ramallah, which begin on Monday, will focus on some of the biggest problems that need to be solved before Israel and the Palestinians can sign a final peace settlement.

The negotiation teams will focus on five issues:

  • future status of Jerusalem
  • future of the Jewish settlements
  • Palestinian refugees
  • water rights
  • Israel's final borders

Both sides want Jerusalem as their capital. On the question of borders, Mr Arafat wants 90% of occupied land back, whereas Israel has offered only a fraction of that.

The issues seem virtually intractable, the BBC Jerusalem correspondent says.

Both sides have set themselves a tight timetable with a commitment to signing a final peace treaty by September 2000.

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