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Mike Hanna: Mideast officials on each side under pressure at home
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna reports on the outbreak of violence in the Mideast Friday and the political climate within Israel.
Q: Where did the main outbreaks of violence happen Friday?
HANNA: There were incidents of violence in several areas in the Palestinian territories. At least one Palestinian was reported killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Hebron. Another two Palestinians were reported killed in separate incidents in the Gaza Strip.
Also, three Israeli soldiers were wounded in what Israeli police say was a suicide bombing in the West Bank. The Israeli police say a Palestinian walked into a roadside restaurant near a Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley and detonated an explosive device, killing himself.
The restaurant was reportedly full of Israeli soldiers at the time. Incidentally, there was a similar bombing attack seven years ago near exactly the same restaurant during a previous uprising.
Q: What are we hearing about the motivations behind that suicide bombing with it coming on the heels of Mideast peace talks in Washington this week?
HANNA: There's been no claims of responsibility or no certainty about the motive of this particular bombing attack. However, in various Palestinian territories, there has been great discontent expressed at funerals for Palestinians who have been killed in recent days and talk against the peace talks in Washington.
There has been pressure being brought to bear from the Palestinian public on the leadership not to take part in these talks while, say these Palestinians, other Palestinians are being killed by Israeli forces.
But some of the pressure is coming to bear on the Israeli authorities from sections of the Israeli public. There was an Israeli motorist who police say was killed in a drive-by incident. He was killed, police say, by a Palestinian gunman. His funeral was held in Jerusalem Friday and settler organizations say his death is evidence that negotiations cannot continue while Israelis remain under fire.
So, the leaders on both sides are experiencing a certain amount of public anger by allowing these talks to go on. At this stage, the leaders seem to be standing firm in their support of the negotiations, apparently not willing to let the conflict on the ground dictate the course of events.
Q: Is the latest violence expected to have an effect on the upcoming Israeli elections?
HANNA: Yes, it appears the election campaign will be taking place against the backdrop of this conflict. And the conflict is a major theme of the elections, given that the two contenders -- Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon -- both say they have absolute dominant ideas on the preservation of Israeli security.
Obviously, depending on which camp the Israelis are in, they will point to the violence as a reason to vote for or against a candidate. Ariel Sharon has argued he is the best person to provide security for Israelis. He professes to still be intent on achieving a peace, but not the peace he says Ehud Barak is offering. Sharon has insisted that the peace negotiations being conducted by Barak are nothing less than a sellout of the Israeli identity and a threat to Israeli security.
For his part, Barak and his supporters are adamant that getting a peace deal is the best solution to the violence. And they are looking to achieve a peace deal as a prop for Barak's political survival, in a way. He has made quite clear that the elections on prime minister will be a public mandate on the peace process, in particular his peace efforts.
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