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Suicide bomber kills Israeli grocer as truce negotiations continue

SHARE Suicide bomber kills Israeli grocer as truce negotiations continue

JERUSALEM — A suicide bomber blew himself up in an Israeli grocery store early today, killing the owner, despite an intense push by Palestinian and international leaders to persuade militant groups to end such attacks.

Several hours later, settlers scuffled with soldiers dismantling the West Bank settlement outpost of Mitzpeh Yitzhar, the first inhabited outpost being removed under Israel's obligations in a U.S.-backed peace plan.

About 200 people from nearby Jewish settlements blocked the road to the outpost — a collection of tents and two makeshift buildings — with cars, burning tires and sharp objects. Soldiers and police used their bare hands and knives to rip down some tents as settlers charged them, throwing punches. The ensuing fight left many of the settlers bloody.

Taking down the unauthorized outposts and stopping Palestinian attacks on Israelis are key elements in the first phase of the U.S.-backed "road map" to Middle East peace, which envisions an end to almost 33 months of violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was headed to the region Friday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to restore momentum to peace efforts.

Speaking today during a brief stop in Bangladesh, Powell condemned the suicide bombing and said that despite the violence, some progress was being made in developing security arrangements.

In his fourth day of talks to reach a cease-fire agreement, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met today with two small militant groups and planned to meet with all the Palestinian factions tonight.

As talks for a Palestinian cease-fire continued, so did the violence.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for today's suicide bombing in a telephone call to The Associated Press, identifying the bomber as Ahmed Abahreh, 22, of the West Bank town of Jenin.

In that early morning attack, the bomber carried a bag of explosives into a grocery store in the Israeli village of Sdeh Trumot near the West Bank, police said.

He probably planned to target a bus or a nearby bus stop, and entered the store to wait until the bus stop got more crowded or a bus came, police spokesman Yaron Zamir said.

The store owner, Avner Mordechai, 63, realized the man was a bomber and approached him when the attacker detonated the explosives, killing Mordechai, Zamir said.

"We have no doubt that the store owner paid with his life to save others," Zamir said.

The Israeli army also reported a string of overnight attacks on soldiers by Palestinian militants, none of which ended with fatalities. The attacks followed a highway ambush Tuesday by Palestinian gunmen that killed a 7-year-old Israeli girl.

On Wednesday, Abbas held separate meetings in Gaza with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main Islamic militant groups, to persuade them to halt such attacks. Participants in the truce talks said Israel's part in a possible cease-fire deal would be a commitment to stop targeted killings of suspected militants.

There were contradictory signals today about the degree of progress in the talks.

Palestinian officials said U.S. envoy John Wolf was making progress in getting Israel to scale back the targeted killings to include only militants actually planning attacks and not "political leaders" such as Hamas' Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who survived an Israeli missile strike last week. Israel has denied such a deal was in the works.

The Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abbas would meet with Powell Friday afternoon in the West Bank town of Jericho before returning to Gaza for yet more meetings.

In their two-hour meeting Wednesday with the premier, some Hamas leaders left open the possibility it would halt attacks on civilians in Israel, but continued to insist on their right to target Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. But Hamas leaders said serious discussions were underway, reinforcing speculation an accord might be near.

"We are trying to find a solution which is good for all of us," Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab said.

In their separate meeting, Islamic Jihad leaders also insisted on the right to target Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami said.

Israel has said it might accept a temporary cease-fire of up to six weeks by the Palestinian militants, but then Abbas must forcefully crack down on the groups.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting the United States today, said he told U.S. officials that Israel saw a long-term cease-fire as a way for Palestinians to extract concessions from Israel while allowing violent groups to regroup.

"What we need to see is a dismantling of the terrorist organizations," he told Israel Radio today. Such a dismantling is called for in the road map.

The recent violence underscored the fragility of the plan, launched June 4 by President Bush.

Last week Israeli helicopters struck three times in Gaza City, targeting Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was wounded, and commanders and militants of the Hamas military wing. Twenty people, most of them bystanders, were killed. Also last week, a Hamas suicide bomber on a Jerusalem bus killed 17 people.