JERUSALEM -- Minutes after Israel's Cabinet approved the latest Mideast peace agreement with the Palestinians, bombs exploded in two Israeli cities yesterday and killed three suspected terrorists, police said.
Israeli and Palestinian officials condemned the bombings and vowed to push ahead with the Middle East peace process that got a boost Saturday when the two sides agreed to a new timetable to solve the main issues dividing them.
In the first bombing, an explosive-laden car blew up about 5 p.m. in the Israeli resort town of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, Israel radio reported. The vehicle's two occupants were killed, and four passers-by were injured, police said. The car bore suspect license plates and may have been stolen, police said.
The second explosion occurred within a half-hour in a parking lot behind a tow-truck business in the northern port city of Haifa, about 60 miles from Tiberias. Police suspect that it was a "work accident," the term used to describe a planned terrorist attack gone awry. The driver of that car was killed by the blast, police said.
No group had claimed responsibility for either incident as of last night. But Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas, voiced opposition last week to the recent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Hamas, which opposes the peace process, has carried out similar attacks.
Police said they were stepping up security across Israel, fearing a campaign of suicide bombings and car blasts by Islamic militants who want to sabotage the latest peace effort.
Minutes before the explosions, Israel's Cabinet voted 21-2 to approve revisions to the U.S.-brokered Wye River Memorandum that Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed amid much fanfare Saturday night in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh.
The agreement revived a peace process that had been deadlocked for eight months, directed implementation of the revised Wye River accord almost immediately, and set Israelis and Palestinians on a course to complete the most difficult talks of the peace process by September 2000. The key Palestinian obligation in the land-for-peace accord is to fight terrorism.
The Cabinet was still meeting when news of the first bomb reached Jerusalem. Barak's office issued a terse statement saying that Israel would not tolerate "violence or terrorism against innocent civilians."
'Enemies of peace'
Reacting to the explosions, Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's minister of planning, said, "The enemies of peace are assaulting the people who are looking for peace."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and his Israeli counterpart, lawyer Gilad Sher, were taping an interview with CNN when the explosions occurred.
"I hope the enemies of peace will not resort to such terror activities to sabotage the peace process," Erekat said. "I hope nothing will stop this peace process. The answer to anyone who tries to undermine the peace process is that we are determined to continue; Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs, everyone in the region, have paid so much in the absence of peace. It's time for reconciliation. It's time to heal. It's time to move forward,"
Said Sher: "If we have violence, terrorist attacks, no personal security for our people here, no peace process shall prevail over the personal security of the people of Israel. That's very hard to achieve."
On Saturday night, alongside Egypt's president, Jordan's king and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, Sher and Erekat oversaw the signing of a revised Wye agreement, a document that the two had spent a month negotiating.
The signing by Barak and Arafat heralded a return to the peace process that had been halted under the previous Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. It drew congratulations from President Clinton and European leaders.
Barak wanted to couple a resumption of the land-for-security deal with the start of final-status negotiations, which will decide the most difficult issues of the peace process -- the fate of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, water rights and other issues. He got both.
As part of the revised agreements, Israel will extend the two remaining transfers of West Bank land to the Palestinians to three that will occur over six months. In February, the two sides are to have devised a blueprint to pursue the final-status talks.
Dates for withdrawal
In return for those changes, the Israelis are to release 350 Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli jails -- more than twice the number that the previous government said they were required to do.
The Palestinians also got firm dates to begin the withdrawal of Israeli troops from an additional 11 percent of West Bank land, construction of a port in Gaza and the opening of "safe passage routes" -- a method in which Palestinians cleared through security checks are permitted to travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
The first release of prisoners is expected Sept. 13 and the land transfer on Oct. 1.
Yesterday's bomb explosions occurred at the start of the week when Israelis will celebrate the new year's holiday of Rosh Hashana. The incidents intensified the Israeli opposition's criticisms of the revised Wye agreement.
"Barak should stop all the process and see that Palestinians really fight terror," said Limor Livnat, an Israeli parliamentarian from the opposition Likud bloc.
Pub Date: 9/06/99