Zinnis latest visit is marked by continued violence

JERUSALEM — U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni's visit here this week was marked by the same kind of violence as his two earlier peacemaking trips to the Mideast.

As Zinni held a number of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, both separately and together, terrorism continued on the streets.

The worst incident happened Wednesday morning when a Palestinian suicide bombing in northern Israel killed seven Israelis and wounded more than 30.

The terrorist boarded an Egged bus in the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm and, after arguing with the driver and some passengers, detonated a massive bomb attached to his body. The quantity of explosives nearly cut the bus in two.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. The Palestinian Authority denounced the "operation," saying that terrorist attacks inside Israel proper might annoy "world public opinion."

The statement said nothing about attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which continued on Wednesday, with Israeli cars attacked near Nablus and Hebron, injuring one person.

Israel's Security Cabinet met Wednesday to discuss the attack, but was not expected to order a major military response to the bombing, in order to avoid derailing moves toward a cease-fire.

Among the dead were Non-Commissioned Officer Meir Fahima, 40, from Hadera; Staff-Sgt. Shimon Haderi, 20, from Pardes Hannah; Sgt. Michael Altfiro, 19, from Pardes Hannah; Corporal Aharon Revivo, 19, from Afula; Alon Goldenberg, 28, from Tel Aviv; Mahanto Mogus, 75, from Holon.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Arafat had done nothing to curb Palestinian attacks.

"What we are seeing is that Arafat has not strayed from his policy of terror, at this stage," Sharon said. "He has not yet taken any step, as of now he has not handed down any order, and this is, of course, something that we view as very grave, and we shall take the steps that it requires."

Earlier in the week while Vice President Cheney visited Israel there were several incidents of violence including an attack on an Israeli army post in the Jordan Valley, in which one officer was killed and three soldiers wounded.

First Lt. Tal Zemach, 20, was buried Tuesday afternoon in the Kibbutz Hulda cemetery. Later in the day, at least two border police officers were injured in a terrorist attack near Beit Shemesh, inside Israel.

Shortly afterward, Israeli President Moshe Katsav told Israel television that the next 24 hours would test the willingness of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Arafat, to end violence against Israel.

"The time has come to tell him this is the end of the game, it's time to decide," Katsav said of Arafat.

On Monday night, Israel began pulling out of Bethlehem and Beit Jala as well as the northern Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed three armed Palestinians in two separate incidents overnight Monday in Gaza.

In one incident, a Palestinian armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand-grenades was shot dead on the road as he reportedly was crossing into Israel.

In the second incident, soldiers chased five Palestinians trying to penetrate the Gush Katif settlement bloc. Two of the Palestinians were killed, while the others escaped.

The decision to withdraw from the Palestinian areas came after meetings between Israeli and Palestinian security officials Sunday night.

Those discussions were followed by a meeting of a high level Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. security committee in Jerusalem on Monday, mediated by Zinni.