Jerusalem, Jan. 6 (Reuters): Israel today barred Palestinians from attending talks in London on West Asia peace and leadership reforms at home in anger over twin suicide bombings that killed 22 people.
Israel’s refusal to heed a plea by Britain, which is sponsoring the January 14 talks between Palestinian officials and members of the quartet of West Asian mediators, to rescind the edict touched off a dispute with London.
More than 100 people were wounded in the Tel Aviv blasts that turned a crowded pedestrian mall in a foreign workers’ neighbourhood into a killing field yesterday. At least 10 Israelis and four foreigners were among the dead.
“We are again witnessing a wave of terrible terrorism,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said as he visited the wounded. “When we end the terror we will sit to talk peace. But the first thing to be done is to put an end to terror.”
Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sparred over the telephone with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, who condemned the suicide bombings while voicing regret at the move to stymie the London conference.
Netanyahu, according to his office, told Straw that Britain should adapt US President George W. Bush’s position “that leaders compromised by terror cannot be partners for peace,” an apparent reference to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
“You in Britain are doing the exact opposite,” Netanyahu was quoted as telling Straw.
“No, it is Israel that is doing the opposite,” the Israeli statement quoted Straw as saying. “Instead of concentrating on dealing with terrorism, it is striking at (Palestinian) delegates.”
Condemned as “terrorism” by the Palestinian Authority, the Tel Aviv attacks came three weeks before an Israeli election in which security concerns will be paramount for many voters, and could smooth Right-wing Sharon’s bid to remain Prime Minister.
Hours after the two suicide bombers detonated explosives packed with nails and bolts for more deadly effect, Israeli helicopter gunships targeted two foundries in Gaza City which the army described as weapons factories.
Five people were wounded in the Israeli air raid.