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Abbas must act

IDENTIFYING SOME of the victims of the No. 2 bus bombing in Jerusalem has proved difficult for Israeli pathologists. Contemplate the impact of an 11-pound explosive on the body of a child, even if a crowd of passengers shielded him or her in some way.

With Tuesday's attack, Palestinian militants displayed once again their passion for terror - 20 civilians died in the blast, including at least six children - and contempt for peace efforts under way. The attack on a double-length bus carrying many religious Jews and their families occurred as Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas sat with leaders of one militant group, Islamic Jihad, to discuss an extension of a June 29 cease-fire.

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Dueling claims of responsibility for the bus bombing sadly shows the eagerness of some to trumpet the carnage. Mr. Abbas can no longer rely on negotiations to restrain the militant groups. His fear that a move against them will spark a civil war will have to be tested, otherwise the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace is doomed.

While Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken several steps to carry out his responsibilities under the plan (such as removing troops from two Palestinian areas, releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing some settlement outposts), he has exhibited measured restraint on Mr. Abbas' dealings with the militants. Israeli security officials have contended that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were using the relative calm to regroup and rearm. Tuesday's attack would seem to bear out their claims.

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The bus bombing and the murders of two other Israelis apparently were in retaliation for three recent deaths of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives at the hands of Israeli soldiers. But an attack on a busload of innocent people can't be compared to raids on militant extremists.

If Mr. Abbas wants to maintain his credibility with the Israelis and the Bush administration, he has to follow through on his order to arrest the architects of the bus bombing and then, without delay, begin to uproot their organizations as required under the U.S.-backed road map. Mr. Sharon has properly tied any military action from Israel to the Palestinian Authority's response. But he does mean business: Reports last night had Israeli tanks converging on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Sadly, children figured prominently in this attack. Television footage from the scene showed the bloodied and stunned faces of young victims as rescuers converged on the twisted and burned remains of the bus. Among the survivors was an infant girl who was pulled from beneath three bodies. She may be this conflict's latest orphan.


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