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Suicide bombings jolt Mideast peace hopes

Two explosions Tuesday killed 2 Israelis and wounded 11 others.

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Attacks by two Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and the West Bank Tuesday dealt a serious blow to a tenuous six-week cease-fire, and threaten to undermine the Palestinian Authority's campaign to stop Israel's barrier and settlement building in the West Bank.

The timing of Tuesday's bombings, which left two Israelis dead and 11 wounded, came hours before US envoy William Burns met with Israeli officials to press the Bush administration's opposition to the course of the barrier under construction in the West Bank. The barrier's stated purpose is to halt Palestinian infiltrators.

But with attention now focused on the attacks, and the barrier posited as the remedy, the Palestinian case may now be more difficult to press, especially with Israel blurring the distinction between protecting towns in Israel and fortifying Israeli settlements - illegal under international law - in the West Bank.

While several Israeli ministers urged the army to avoid a response to the bombings that would further undermine the cease-fire, Israel's message was unambiguous: its barrier must be built, and the PA must crack down on "terrorist infrastructure," a step it insists it cannot do without triggering civil war.

According to army radio, Israeli spokesmen were issued directives after the attack to stress the need for the controversial barrier. Many stressed that since construction of the barrier has not reached the Rosh Haayin area, it was open to attack.

"Even those who do not like the fence should know that it is a better option than having terrorist attacks without a fence," Ehud Olmert, an Israeli minister, told the station.

Ariel's mayor, Ron Nachman, meanwhile, said the attack proves the government must adhere to plans to include his settlement, 11 miles within the West Bank, in the barrier construction.

Plans to route the wall aroundAriel helped trigger the American objections to the barrier's course. The United States has not objected to the idea of building of the barrier, but President Bush has protested what he calls "snaking [it] through" the West Bank.

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