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Blast derails West Asia talks

Jerusalem, May 18 (Reuters): A Palestinian suicide bomber killed seven people aboard a Jerusalem bus today, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to put off a trip to the White House to discuss a new West Asian peace plan.

Another suicide attacker detonated his explosives belt at a roadblock nearby but killed only himself, bringing the overall toll to nine dead in a fresh spasm of bloodshed hours after the highest-level Israeli-Palestinian talks for over two years.

The meeting between Sharon and new reform-minded Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas failed to bridge disputes over which side should act first to implement the “road map” peace plan.

Palestinian militants waging a 31-month-long revolt against Israel have sworn to defy Abbas, a moderate opposed to violence, and scuttle the plan unfurled by US President George W. Bush and partners in a mediating quartet two weeks ago.

The violence was likely to add ammunition to Sharon’s insistence that the new reform-minded Palestinian government subdue militant groups first before Israel relaxes its military grip on territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Sharon had planned to see Bush at the White House on Tuesday to raise his objections to the “road map”, which stipulates mutual confidence-building steps to bring Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005.

Seven people were killed and about 20 wounded when a Palestinian militant disguised as a religious Jew stepped aboard a commuter bus in Jerusalem’s French Hill district and promptly blew himself up, police chief Mickey Levy said.

“I was in the bus going to work when there was a blast. When I looked up, there was a woman in front of me dead, and a woman to my right dead. I saw a severed head on the floor. I only suffered bruises,” passenger Yizhak Shklar told Israel radio.

Another suicide bomber struck before the Sharon-Abbas talks last night, killing two Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Violence continued elsewhere today. Israeli forces shot dead an 18-year-old Palestinian man in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis.

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