Suicide bombings in Israel, West Bank
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Less than an hour apart, a pair of suicide bombings Tuesday killed two Israelis and wounded at least a dozen others.
The terror attacks occurred six weeks after three Palestinian fundamentalist groups, including Hamas and Fatah, declared a temporary cease-fire on Israeli targets.
Hamas' armed wing -- Izzedine al Qassam -- claimed responsibility for one of Tuesday's bombings -- an attack at a bus stop near the West Bank settlement of Ariel that killed one Israeli and critically wounded two others.
The militant wing of Fatah -- Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- claimed responsibility for the other attack, a grocery store bombing in central Israel that killed one Israeli and wounded at least 10 others. Fatah is the political organization of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. According to Palestinian Cabinet member Saeb Erakat, Arafat has condemned the bombings.
Izzedine al Qassam said its bombing in Ariel was in direct response to the killing by Israel of a Hamas commander in Nablus on Friday.
Less than an hour before the Ariel attack, a suicide bomber detonated himself inside a small grocery store at a shopping mall in the central Israeli town of Rosh Ha'ayin, killing one person and wounding at least 10 others, Israeli police and medical relief services said.
According to Israeli hospital services, one person was severely wounded in the Rosh Ha'ayin attack -- the others were lightly to moderately wounded. Rosh Ha'ayin is east of Tel Aviv, near the West Bank border.
Israeli police said they had detained a man who they said transported the bomber to Rosh Ha'ayin.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leaders were expected to meet separately Tuesday with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns to discuss the situation, which was described by a State Department official as "the most serious challenge yet" to the current Mideast peace process known as the road map.
But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech Tuesday in Maine, said, "I've already seen reports on television that say, 'Well, the road map is now finished,' or, 'Cease-fire is over,' or, 'This is all off track.'
"No, it is not," Powell said. "We cannot let it go off track. We will continue to move forward on the road."
News of the attacks prompted Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to cut short a tour of the Persian Gulf states and return home to the West Bank, his aides told CNN.
Abbas -- who has denounced using violence to achieve Palestinian goals -- has been under international pressure to bring Palestinian extremist groups under control as part of the road map.
In response to the terrorist attacks, Israeli officials postponed Tuesday's planned release of 76 Palestinian prisoners. Israel had called the release a good faith measure in support of the road map and the Palestinian leadership.
"The bombing attack in Rosh Ha'ayin again demonstrates that there is no substitute to the complete disarming of the Palestinian terrorist organizations by the Palestinian authority as called for in the road map," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Sharon.
"Israel expects that the Palestinian Authority will fulfill its road map commitments and once and for all dismantle and disarm the terrorist groups that are in its areas of jurisdiction."
The road map is backed by the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union. It calls for steps by both sides leading to an independent Palestinian state -- living side by side in peace and security with Israel -- by 2005.
In its response to the attacks, the Palestinian Authority said in a statement that it "reiterates its commitment to the truce and to the road map and reaffirms that it won't allow any party to violate the cease-fire."
On June 29, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared a cease-fire for three months and Fatah for six months. Israel's stance is that no cease-fire agreement exists between it and Palestinian militants.
On June 16, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Sharon explained to Cabinet members Israel's policy regarding the prospect of a cease-fire by the militants. "If no one fires on us, we will not return fire, except in cases of ticking bombs," Sharon was quoted by Haaretz as saying. Israel has claimed a right to target groups or individuals who intelligence indicates are about to launch terrorist attacks.
Shortly before Izzedine al Qassam's claim of responsibility for the attack in Ariel, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza said the group remained committed to its cease-fire, but took issue with Israel's targeted killings of accused terrorists.
According to Hamas, it has a right to self-defense.
Four Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed in a gun battle at the Asqar refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank on Friday. (Full story)
Izzedine al Qassam published a statement on the Internet last week that called on cells of the group to respond to the deaths of the Palestinians at the refugee camp, Palestinian sources in Gaza said.
Erakat said he had spoken Tuesday with Arafat and that the Palestinian leader had condemned the attacks. "The whole situation is in a very, very critical juncture now. Something needs to happen, in terms of implementation of the road map, and the only party that can do that intervention is the United States, and I hope they will interfere immediately in order to give the road map the chance it deserves."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry suggested that the peace process may not be working.
"Unfortunately this whole road map ... is only a fig leaf behind which the terrorist organizations are hiding and are rearming themselves and preparing themselves for exactly the type of incident we saw today," said Jonathan Peled, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, who spoke after the suicide attacks but before the Hamas claim of responsibility.
"When we talk about the Palestinian Authority's responsibility, we mean that they have to rein in not only the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also rein in their own militias -- their own Palestinian factions."
Not ruling out sending Israeli troops into Palestinian territories, Peled said, "Israel will continue taking every necessary measure against these terrorists and suicide bombers."
CNN correspondents Jerrold Kessel, Sheila MacVicar and Andrea Koppel, CNN producer Waffa Munayyer, CNN.com Arabic's Caroline Faraj, and CNN Radio's Brooke Binkowski contributed to this report.