Weekend bombings make election road tougher for Peres


February 26, 1996
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT)

From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Speaking before Parliament Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres gave voice to the agony and anger gripping his nation following Sunday's two suicide bombings that killed 27 people.


Peres issued a warning to Hamas, the Islamic group that claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the prime minister faces political problems.

Just last Friday, he ordered the lifting of a 10-day closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- imposed because suicide bombings had been feared. Now he must decide whether it should stay in place indefinitely.

"It gives a sense of security, but it's not 100 percent," said Israeli Health Minister Ephraim Sneh, who said that "in the long run, it is damaging and counter- productive." (238K AIFF sound or 238K WAV sound)

Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat has strongly condemned the bus bombings, but Israeli demands that he do more could put him under pressure -- and weaken the Peres government's peace partner.


The bus bombs have definitely weakened belief in the peace agreement of some middle-ground Israelis. A poll after the bombings shows Peres' lead in the coming elections over his Likud challenger Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped from 15 to just three points.

"I think that those who have wavered to the Likud as a result of this event are those who doubted in the first place that Arafat is quite serious about this agreement," said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)

Sunday's suicide bombings are the first serious attacks since last November's assassination of Peres' predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, by an Israeli. The right-wing opposition is stressing its refusal to make political capital out of the attack, but critics of Peres' peace policies may now no longer be inhibited about calling for the talks with Arafat to end entirely.

The Israeli elections are still three months off. But the bus attack underlines that the result of that crucial vote could be determined by more than what the Peres government decides and how the opposition reacts. Israeli voters will also be watching Arafat to see what he actually does to control Gaza and the West Bank.

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