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Twin Homicide Bombings Rock Israel (FOX NEWS) ROSH HAAYIN, Israel Amy Kellogg and The Associated Press contributed 08/12/03) Source: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,94444,00.html
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ROSH HAAYIN, Israel — Twin homicide bombings in the Middle East Tuesday morning left two Israelis dead and 11 wounded, but most sides involved indicated the current shaky truce between militant groups would hold.
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The attacks took place at a strip mall in Israel and at a bus stop at a West Bank Jewish settlement, shattering a six-week period of relative calm.
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The homicide bombings were the first since an Islamic Jihad splinter cell member blew himself up inside a house near Tel Aviv on July 7, killing a 65-year-old Israeli woman.
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The attacks could derail the two-month-old, U.S.-backed Mideast "road map" that has already been having trouble trying to overcome compliance hurdles put forth by both the Palestinians and Israelis.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would not move forward with the plan "if terrorism doesn´t cease completely."
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Still, Sharon did not change his itinerary or convene his security Cabinet, as is customary after major attacks. Sharon was to meet later Tuesday with a senior U.S. envoy, State Department official William Burns.
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Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the road map would not be thrown off course by the latest bombings.
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"We cannot let it go off track. We will continue to move forward on the road map. We will continue to do everything we can," Powell told a group of Israeli and Arab students in a speech. "We will not be stopped by bombs. We will not be stopped by this kind of violence."
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The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack at the West Bank settlement of Ariel, which killed an Israeli army recruit, marking its first open violation of the cease-fire it declared on June 29.
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The Al Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades (search), nominally tied to Yasser Arafat´s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the other blast, which killed at least one bystander at a pharmacy in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rosh Haayin.
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Al Aqsa renegades told The Associated Press that they carried out the Rosh Haayin bombing. In a statement, the group said, "we swear there will be more martyrdom operations until the occupation is defeated." An Al Aqsa Web site was down.
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Iranian-funded Fatah rebels have refused to comply with truce and have carried out several attacks in the past six weeks. Israeli officials said the attacks don´t seem to have been coordinated.
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The Web site of Izzedine al Qassam, the Hamas military wing, claimed responsibility for the Ariel bombing, which killed an Israeli army recruit and seriously injured two others, said to be teenagers.
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Hamas said the Ariel attack was in response to what it alleged were Israeli truce violations and in retaliation for a raid carried out by Israeli troops Friday on a West Bank bomb lab that left three Palestinians dead, including two Hamas members.
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Both assailants were teenagers from the West Bank city of Nablus. Islam Yousef Qteishat, the Ariel assailant, was 17, his family said. The second attacker was identified as Khamis Ghazi Gerwan, 17, a Fatah follower.
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Hamas released a picture of Qteishat, lightly bearded and brandishing a machine-gun, that it said was taken just before the operation. A letter that Hamas said was written by the attacker urged his family to celebrate his death.
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"Father, don´t be sad, lift your head in pride, because your son died a martyr for the sake of God," the letter said.
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Israel sealed Nablus, and imposed a curfew on surrounding villages. Israel also called off the planned release Tuesday of 76 Palestinian prisoners, none of them involved in anti-Israeli violence. Some of the detainees had already boarded buses and were brought back.
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Israel accused new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) of not doing enough to prevent attacks. Abbas, who was considering whether to cut short a tour of Gulf states, has said he will not confront the militants for fear of touching off a civil war.
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"The fact that Abu Mazen is circling the globe does not show a serious commitment to dealing with terrorism," said Israeli Cabinet minister Gideon Ezra.
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The Bush administration had hoped Abbas would be the key to peace in the Middle East.
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Abbas denounced the attacks but also bemoaned continued Israeli army raids into Palestinian cities in search of wanted militants, which he said provoked the latest bloodshed.
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"The Palestinian Authority will work hard to maintain the truce and quiet," the moderate Abbas, who coaxed militant groups into the suspension of attacks, told Reuters from Qatar.
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The Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, said he will not permit truce violations and that homicide bombings harm the Palestinian interest.
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In Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv, the bomber struck at the entrance to a supermarket and pharmacy in a small shopping center, leaving a mass of twisted blinds and shattered glass.
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Two bodies were found at the scene, one belonging to an Israeli and the other the bomber. Nine people were injured.
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The blast sparked a large fire in the supermarket in Rosh Haayin, which is only yards from the line between Israel and the West Bank. Firefighters with breathing equipment pulled casualties out of the store.
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In Ariel, the body of the dead Israeli lay spread-eagled at the side of the road, covered by a white plastic sheet. Police and soldiers with sniffer dogs searched for more explosives.
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Regional police chief Uri Bar Lev said police had been on high alert after warnings of an attack in the area. Israel TV´s Channel 10 said Palestinian officials had warned Israel about the Rosh Haayin and Ariel attacks.
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Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said the attacks showed the need to complete a security barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Israel says it needs the fence to stop attackers entering Israel, but it has been condemned by the Palestinians and criticized by the United States.
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Peled said the first stage of the fence to be completed stopped just short of the site of the Rosh Haayin attack. "Where the fence ends, terrorists enter," he said.
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An Israeli security official said that since the June 29 cease-fire agreement between the violent Islamic groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the military had thwarted 36 Palestinian attacks and arrested more than 200 Palestinians.
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Hamas spokesman Ismail Hanieh said the group was still committed to the cease-fire. "We cannot pinpoint who stands behind this operation," he said.
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But, he added, "this situation was born as a result of Israel´s refusal to commit to the Palestinian [truce]."
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Fox News´ Amy Kellogg and The Associated Press contributed to this report. (Copyright 2003 FOX News Network, LLC. 08/12/03)
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