Bombing hits Jerusalem; EU official joins peace effort
JERUSALEM -- A bomber killed himself and injured 12 people Tuesday in what Israeli sources in Jerusalem said was a suicide attack.
The blast rocked a busy Jerusalem street just before 8 a.m., Israeli police said. Three people were described as seriously injured.
The incident came as European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana was visiting the region in an attempt to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Solana, who met Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres late on Monday, visited the scene of the blast. He was due to meet later on Tuesday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was in Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- currently in Russia for talks with President Vladamir Putin -- condemned the attack.
"The responsibility clearly lies with the Palestinian Authority," Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin told Reuters.
"They do have control (of the violence), but the fact is that they are not doing anything to stop the horrendous killings of men, women and children."
The explosion, the fifth in Jerusalem since Monday, occurred near a hospital in the center of the city, just a flew blocks from Ben Yehuda Street, where a suicide bomber killed 16 people on August 9.
According to Israeli police the bomber had disguised himself as an Orthodox Jew, with a skullcap, black coat and fake beard.
He was stopped by police, who thought he was acting suspiciously, then panicked and exploded the bomb he was carrying.
"Policemen saw that he was an Arab who dressed up as a Jew and stopped him," Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy told Reuters. "They prevented a much greater tragedy by stopping him before he could reach a busier area."
An Israeli woman named only as Orit told Israeli army radio: "I came back to my car and the explosion went off just a meter (yard) away. I looked back and I saw smoke."
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, the latest incident in 11 months of violence that has claimed at least 554 Palestinian and 157 Israeli lives.
On Monday alone four bombs went off in Jerusalem, while Israeli soldiers were involved in violent clashes with Palestinians around the town of Hebron.
In all, two Palestinians died and 20 were injured, and at least six Israelis were also hurt.
Diplomatic efforts are continuing to try to find a way to halt the violence.
Solana is trying to engineer a meeting between Peres and Arafat, although Tuesday's blast could jeopardise those efforts.
"What is there to talk about right now?" Sharon spokesman Gissin told Reuters. "There is only one thing to talk about and that is the complete cessation of violence, terrorist violence and incitement."
Sharon is in Russia both to discuss the situation in the Middle East and to air his concerns about Russia's sale of military equipment to Iran.
In March Moscow agreed to provide Tehran with $7 billion worth of arms over the next few years.
Russia has so far played little part in the effort to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite being urged to do so by Arab leaders such as King Abdullah II of Jordan.
However, Putin told Sharon on Tuesday that Russia was now prepared to make a "substantial" contribution to solving the Middle East crisis.
"We are watching with alarm everything that is happening there, especially considering that a large portion of Israeli citizens come from the former Soviet Union and Russia," Putin was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
"We are not indifferent to the fate of these people. We want them to live in conditions of peace, prosperity and security."
Tension in the area spilled over to the U.N. racism conference in Durban, South Africa, where the Israeli and U.S. delegations walked out on Monday.
They were protesting a draft of the conference's final declaration that denounced "practices of racial discrimination against the Palestinians as well as other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories" by Israel, and described Zionism as "based on racial superiority."
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