The faces of grief

The Baltimore Sun

Jerusalem-- --Over the past seven days, Israel and the Palestinians have absorbed stunning blows that have led to mourning across the region - and shaken hopes for U.S.-promoted peace talks. Among them: an Arab gunman's attack that killed eight students Thursday at a Jerusalem religious school.

"I think it's possible that a month from now we'll look back and say the attack [at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva] was a turning point, but you can't say that now," said Yossi Alpher, a co-founder of the bitterlemons.org political Web site and a former senior official with Israel's spy agency. "At this point, it has to be treated as an isolated incident and not some significant change in Israeli-Palestinian relations."

The shooting was a horrific episode in what might be a new violent cycle. In recent days, Gaza militants trained a concentrated barrage of rockets on Israel's southernmost coastal city and Israel staged a military operation in Gaza that killed more than 100 Palestinians, including 25 Gazans younger than 18.

"We are heading into very dangerous times," said Mohammed Masri, the former head of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence services in Gaza who now runs the Palestinian Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

To protest the Gaza incursion, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called a temporary halt to peace negotiations with Israel. The developments transformed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's previously planned Middle East visit into a diplomatic rescue mission. With Rice's prodding, Abbas agreed to resume talks with Israel, but he didn't say when negotiations would get back on track.

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