September 7, 1997 in Nation/World

Middle East Turns To Albright To Salvage Peace Process Israelis, Palenstinians Want Her To Put Pressure On Other Side

Dina Kraft Associated Press

Israeli and Palestinian governments looked to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to save their peace process Saturday, with each saying she must pressure the other side in her upcoming Mideast mission.

The Islamic militant group Hamas, meanwhile, reportedly denied responsibility for a triple suicide bombing that heightened the crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Israel radio quoted an unidentified Hamas official as saying the bombings were done to embarrass Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, and that Hamas knew who did it. No further details were given.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Thursday’s blasts - which killed four young Israelis and the bombers - by ruling out Israel’s promised withdrawal from the rural West Bank. The withdrawal, agreed to in past peace accords, will be on hold until Arafat crushes Hamas, Netanyahu said.

The bombings and Israel’s reaction make it much harder for Albright and her peace mission, which starts Wednesday.

Netanyahu’s senior adviser, David Bar-Illan, said he hoped Albright could persuade Arafat to act against Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority has denounced the bombings, but warned that the decision to freeze the Israeli troop withdrawal would trigger more violence.

“The Palestinian Authority is still committed to the peace process and calls on the United States and the international community to do all it can to save the peace process,” said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian Cabinet.

Israel closed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the bombings and barred Palestinians in the West Bank from leaving their communities.

On Saturday, the army announced that Palestinian workers could return to Israeli-run industrial areas in the West Bank and Gaza.

The travel ban came just several days after Israel began easing a monthlong closure imposed after double bombings at a Jerusalem market on July 30. Israel had blamed Hamas for those bombings.

Israeli police said they found great similarities between the Thursday and July 30 attacks, which killed a total of 19 victims and five bombers. Arafat has said the assailants in both cases came from abroad.

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