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Middle East: Israel Increases Diplomatic Pressure On Syria, Palestinians

Israei Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (file photo) The Israeli government has launched a diplomatic offensive to increase pressure on Syria and the Palestinians following Friday's suicide bomb attack in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. The bombing killed five people and is the first serious test of a fragile cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Prague, 28 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday blamed the nightclub bombing on 25 February on the radical group Islamic Jihad, saying he believed the group acted under orders coming from within Syria.

"The terror attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad members," Sharon said. "The orders came from Islamic Jihad sources in Syria. We know this for a fact. Based on this fact, we cannot release the Palestinian Authority from its responsibility for the terrorism being unleashed, and for its commitment to act against the accomplices in this crime. The immediate test of the Palestinian Authority will be in an intensive operation against Islamic Jihad."

The Syrian government immediately denied any suggestion that it had played a role in the bombing and said the Damascus office of Islamic Jihad has been closed down. Syrian officials on 26 February said they supported the Palestinian peace efforts with Israel.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara on 27 February sought to tie Israel itself to the attack. "The accusation by [Israeli Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz against Syria proves he knew who was behind the [Tel Aviv] attack," Al-Shara said. "I think the attack came from Israel itself. But I don't want to accuse anyone."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on 28 February was due to present what was described as evidence of Syrian-based involvement at meetings with ambassadors from the European Union and UN Security Council. The head of Israeli military intelligence was to attend those presentations.

It's not clear what that evidence is. The presentations were not open to the public.

The Tel Aviv blast was the first major blow to a truce agreed by Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at their Egypt summit earlier this month.

Sharon yesterday put renewed pressure on the Palestinians to clamp down on militants, saying there would be, quote, "no diplomatic progress" until they did. "The state of Israel is interested in moving toward an agreement with the Palestinians," Sharon said. "But there will not be any diplomatic progress, I repeat, no diplomatic progress, until the Palestinians take vigorous action to wipe out the terror groups and their infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority's territory."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei on 28 February repeated his government's condemnation of the attacks. "We were surprised by the attack in Tel Aviv, we condemned it and we're taking all needed measures to prevent such attacks, which we reject," Qurei said. "We are against causing any harm to civilians, and we need to work on the cease-fire to resume the peace process, but Israel acts like a master with unacceptable reactions."

Abbas earlier had strongly condemned the bombing, saying it was aimed at sabotaging peace efforts.