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Ceasefire threatened as suicide bombers kill two (TELEGRAPH UK) By Ohad Gozani in Rosh Haayin and Inigo Gilmore in Jerusalem, ISRAEL 08/13/03) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;$sessionid$PUEL5FA5GPWQDQFIQMGCFGGAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2003/08/13/wmid13.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/08/13/ixworld.html
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A ceasefire declared six weeks ago by Palestinian militant groups was in jeopardy last night after suicide bombers killed two Israelis.
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The bombings, claimed by the militant Islamic group Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigade, shattered the relative calm of recent weeks and raised concerns that the violence could halt the fledgling peace negotiations. Fifteen Israelis were injured, including a five-year- old boy and his mother.
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Israel responded to the attacks by delaying the release of about 70 Palestinian prisoners and threatening to freeze diplomatic moves designed to aid the "road map" for peace in the region. But there were signs that Israel was prepared to show restraint, with military officials saying there would be no "major" retaliation.
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The attacks were believed to be a response to a weekend Israeli operation in Nablus in which Israeli soldiers killed two Hamas leaders. Both bombers came from the West Bank city.
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One raid took place at a bus stop outside the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Ron Nahman, the mayor of the town, said the bomber was "blown apart" in the blast. Most casualties resulted from the other bombing, in a shopping centre in Rosh Haayin, a small community six miles east of Tel Aviv.
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"The blast was some four to six feet away from me," said Yehudit Ezer, who works on the tills at the Hatzi Kupah (Half Price) mini- market. "Cash registers tumbled to the floor and light fixtures came crashing down on top of us. There was smoke. A colleague pulled me to safety."
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The assailant´s body lay for a few hours outside the mini-market as rescue teams and police bomb experts scoured the scene. "Only the top part remained intact. He was missing arms and legs," a witness told Channel 2 television.
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Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said: "Terrorism will not become an inseparable part of our lives. If the Palestinians do not do what they have to do and wage an all-out campaign against terrorism, Israel will be unable to proceed with the process.
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"The Palestinian Authority has not fulfilled any of its commitments to America, Europe and us. The first thing it must do is dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."
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Mr Sharon´s Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, denounced the bombings as he cut short a visit to Qatar and returned home. Other Palestinian officials rejected the Israeli criticism. The Israelis said the attacks were a direct consequence of the Palestinian Authority´s failure to tackle militant groups.
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The attacks left the ceasefire in doubt as Palestinian militant groups offered conflicting signals over whether they would still be bound by their own declaration.
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Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, who had earlier denied the group´s involvement, admitted that the military wing was behind the Ariel operation.
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He told The Telegraph: "We are still committed to the ceasefire and we will not initiate actions. But we will respond to each Israeli terrorist action. This is not a contradictory position."
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The ceasefire, declared by militant groups at the end of June, had raised hopes that a lull in violence could aid the efforts for peace. But there has been little progress on key issues, such as the dismantling of settler outposts and Palestinian prisoner release, with recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
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Until yesterday there had been only one suicide bombing since the ceasefire: a Palestinian who blew himself up in an Israeli home on the West Bank, killing a woman of 65. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002. 08/13/03)
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