Diplomats meet amid new terror
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The battered Mideast peace process suffered a further setback Wednesday when a suicide bomber set off a blast in a bus in Jerusalem. Preliminary reports said at least 16 people were killed and dozens were injured.
A short time later, Israeli helicopter gunships launched an attack in Gaza, killing seven people and wounding many others, Palestinian sources said.
The attacks came as Egypt was making an effort to salvage the Palestinian Authority's attempts to negotiate a truce with Palestinian hard-liners.
Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, went into a meeting with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan.
It is not yet clear whether Suleiman will travel to Gaza to meet with leaders of the radical Islamic group Hamas, one of whose leaders -- Abdel Aziz Rantissi -- was a target of an Israeli attack on Tuesday.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was unapologetic about Tuesday's attacks in response to Palestinian attacks on Israelis, despite criticism from Abbas and U.S. President George Bush.
According to his office, Sharon on Wednesday talked about Tuesday's strikes at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting, saying "when one talks about terrorism, there are no concessions."
Israeli missiles struck a jeep carrying Rantissi in Gaza City on Tuesday. Two people were killed in that strike, Palestinian sources said, but Rantissi survived.
From his hospital bed, Rantissi said: "At Hamas, we will not drop our weapons, even if all leaders are assassinated. We will not drop our weapons. This is the only option for the Palestinian people." (Full story)
Hours later Tuesday, an Israeli Apache struck a car in Gaza that Palestinian militants were using to launch Qassam missiles into Israel, Israeli military sources said. Three Palestinians died in the air attack; at least two of them were bystanders, according to Palestinian sources and witnesses.
President Bush and Abbas both rebuked Israel for the action. Palestinian officials said Sharon is undermining Abbas' efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with militants.
"I am concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks, " Bush said.
Bush added: "I am determined to keep the process on the road to peace. And I believe with responsible leadership by all parties, we can bring peace to the region -- and I emphasize, all parties must behave responsibly to achieve that objective."
Israel defended the operation, saying Rantissi is a key figure in backing terrorist operations and was behind a weekend attack -- a joint operation by militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- that killed four Israeli soldiers in Gaza. All those groups are considered terror organizations by Israel and the United States.
Senior Israeli security sources said Israel gave intelligence information to the Bush administration regarding Rantissi's direct involvement in terror attacks -- some already executed and others in the pipeline -- in an effort to justify the attack.
The road map plan, supported by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia, calls for a Palestinian state by 2005, an entity that would live in peace with Israel after a number of steps on both sides.
Among the first steps is a Palestinian effort to end militant attacks on Israeli targets and the Israeli dismantling of "unauthorized outposts" in the West Bank and Gaza.
Abbas and Sharon pledged to carry out those steps at the Aqaba, Jordan, summit, and Israel began dismantling some unoccupied outposts earlier this week.