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1997: Suicide bombings put peace visit in doubt

AUDIO : Bomb attacks launched in wake of peace visit

Eight people have been killed and over 150 injured in a series of suicide bomb attacks in the centre of Jerusalem.

The three bombers - who are among the dead - detonated their nail bombs in a packed pedestrian area at about 1500 local time (1300 BST).

The militant Palestinian group Hamas claimed it carried out the bombings.

The explosions came within a minute of each other and appeared calculated to cause maximum civilian damage.

A survivor told reporters of the carnage and confusion immediately after the attacks.

"I heard my friend screaming and then I heard another bang - I saw blood everywhere", he said.

Palestinian leaders were quick to condemn the violence.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Palestinan Authority, Amin Abdul Rahman, called the bombings a "crime against civilian people".

Fragile peace

But the Israeli government has accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to stop groups like Hamas.

"When we see them dragging their feet in the fight against terror then I think we have a right to point the finger in their direction," a government spokesman told the BBC.

The peace process - already fragile after the suicide bomb in Mahane Yehuda market five weeks ago - now seems close to collapse.

The attack also seems intended to sabotage the peace mission of the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who arrives next week.

It has not yet been confirmed whether the visit will still take place.

In Context
The number of people killed in this attack was confirmed as seven the next day.

The number of injured rose to over 170, and this triple suicide bombing was widely viewed as a significant escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two days later the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, announced he felt no longer bound by peace accords with the Palestinians and would suspend Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Madeleine Albright carried out her visit to the region but had little success in forwarding the peace process.

Netanyahu's right wing coalition collapsed in January 1999 and in May 1999 Labour's Ehud Barak was elected prime minister.

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