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Israel closes West Bank after string of attacks

Sharon delays U.S. trip in wake of violence against Israelis

The commuter bus was entering the city center at morning rush hour when the bomb was detonated.
The commuter bus was entering the city center at morning rush hour when the bomb was detonated.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israel Defense Forces closed off the West Bank on Sunday after a string of terror attacks killed nine Israelis and prompted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to postpone a meeting with President Bush at the White House.

The most deadly attack came Sunday morning in Jerusalem as a suicide bomber dressed as an Orthodox Jew and wearing a prayer shawl got on a commuter bus, Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.

The bomb detonated as the bus entered the center of the city from a suburb of East Jerusalem about 6 a.m. [11 p.m. Saturday EDT], Israeli police said. Sunday is a working day in Israel, and the blast happened at the start of the morning rush hour.

Seven passengers and the bomber were killed, and at least 26 others were wounded, Israeli police said.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz identified the seven people killed as Shimon Ostinsky, 68; Nellie Perov, 55; Olga Brenner, 52; Marina Tzachivirshvili, 44; Yitzhak Moyial, 64; and Roni Yisraeli, 35, all from the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev; and Tawil Ralab, 42, from the Shoafat refugee camp.

Minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up about a half-mile away in eastern Jerusalem after being "caught between our road blocks," Kleiman said. No one else was hurt, police said.

After the terror attacks, Sharon announced the postponement of his planned trip to Washington on Tuesday to discuss the "road map" for peace, senior adviser Ra'anan Gissin told CNN.

The road map -- which is backed by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- envisions an end to Israeli-Palestinian fighting and the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

The White House condemned the suicide bombings Sunday and said it was working with Sharon's office to reschedule the visit.

"We condemn the attacks and send our condolences to the victims and their loved ones," White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said.

Sharon had been scheduled to leave Sunday on the trip, which was to have included a meeting with the president Tuesday. Because of the postponement, Sharon was able to attend the regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting Sunday at 6 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT).

Gissin said it has "not yet been decided" when the prime minister will reschedule his White House visit, but that Israel and the U.S. hope to convene the Bush-Sharon meeting "as early as possible."

It is likely that within the next few days, the Israeli government will announce when that trip will take place, a senior Israeli official said.

Cabinet meets to consider response

Sharon and his Cabinet held an emergency session to fashion Israel's response to the string of attacks.

Israeli forces gather at the bombing site in Hebron.
Israeli forces gather at the bombing site in Hebron.

In addition to the closure of the West Bank, which bars Palestinians from entering Israel for any reason, the Cabinet also decided to impose a boycott on any foreign dignitary who meets with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, a senior Israeli official told CNN.

The official, who did not want to be named, said any foreign dignitary who meets with Arafat "undermines" Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and will not be allowed to meet with any Israeli official.

Arafat, in a telephone conversation with Fox News, said he was "definitely" still an active leader. Arafat also said he would never accept expulsion from the Palestinian territories, as has been proposed by the Israeli Cabinet in the past.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned the attacks in a statement Sunday and asked the Palestinians to act quickly to end the violence.

"We call on the Palestinians to begin to take immediate and decisive action to eradicate the infrastructure of terrorism and violence that has wrought such tragic bloodshed for both Palestinians and Israelis and has undermined Palestinian aspirations," Powell said.

Bombings follow historic meeting

The Jerusalem bombings came hours after a historic meeting between Sharon and Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, in Jerusalem.

The talks, which lasted nearly three hours and ended just before 1 a.m. Sunday, were the first meeting between top Palestinian and Israeli leaders in more than two years.

Gissin said the two men made plans to meet again once Sharon returns from Washington, but it is not clear whether that will be affected by the postponement. (Full story)

Before and during the Sharon-Abbas meeting, there were two separate attacks on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, officials and witnesses said.

The first was a suicide bombing in Hebron that killed an Israeli man and his pregnant wife about an hour before the meeting. According to Ha'aretz, Gidi Levy, 31, died instantly. His wife, Dina Levy, was taken to a hospital, where she died of her wounds.

The second attack, which happened as the meeting ended, involved two Palestinian gunmen who entered the Sha-ari Tikva settlement and were killed by Israeli soldiers, Israeli sources said.

Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the Hebron bombing, identifying the attacker as one of its members.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the other attacks, but a Hamas official said the violence reflected "the attitude of the Palestinian people concerning the last meeting between Abu Mazen and Sharon."

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. Izzedine al Qassam has admitted responsibility for previous terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

One Israeli official said it was "obvious" the terror attacks Sunday were connected.

"The timing of these efforts can't be [coincidental], it's part of an effort by the terror organizations to prove to the whole world ... that the government of Abu Mazen is not in control," said Israeli Cabinet minister and former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert.

Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan al-Khatib said Sunday's deadly bus bombing was "unfortunate" but "quite expected."

Israeli police: Hamas arrests thwart kidnapping plan

Early Monday, Jerusalem police announced the recent arrest of eight Hamas operatives captured by police and the Israeli General Security Service, or Shin Bet. The men, all Arab Israelis and residents of Jerusalem, are suspected of planning to hijack an Israeli public bus from Jerusalem to the Palestinian territories, take hostages and demand the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, police said.

The men also planned to kidnap a soldier in Jerusalem as a bargaining card, a police spokesman said.

"They already bought explosives, rented an apartment in Jerusalem in order to turn it into a bombs laboratory," the chief of the Jerusalem district police said.

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