A week after Israel and the Palestinians agreed to begin carrying out a "road map" for peace, the region has fallen back into a cycle of violence after a deadly suicide bombing killed at least 16 people in Jerusalem Wednesday only to be followed by Israeli strikes against Arab targets in the Gaza Strip that reportedly left at least ten people dead. With a new initiative in the Middle East peace process facing a severe test, the Bush administration is vowing Wednesday's violence will not deter it from pressing ahead with a plan for peace.
Rescue workers tended to the wounded after a suicide bomber dressed as a religious Jew blew himself up aboard a bus on a busy downtown Jerusalem street during the evening rush hour.
"We see body parts being loaded onto stretchers and carried off," reported VOA reporter Larry James, who arrived at the scene only moments later. "The scene is one that has been repeated very many times in Israel. I encountered an Israeli armed patrol knocking down doors of some of the houses on the way and looking very intently as though they were checking to make sure there were no other individuals in the area who were intent on terrorist acts."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his government remains committed to the peace process, but will relentlessly pursue Palestinian terrorists. And shortly after the blast, witnesses reported Israeli helicopters firing into a car in the occupied Gaza Strip. Two members of Hamas, the Palestinian group that claimed responsibility for the bus bombing, were killed in that raid along with several others. President Bush immediately condemned the violence, which came less than a week after he left the Middle East with a pledge from both Israel and the Palestinians to commit to taking the first steps in the so-called "road map" for peace.
"There are people who want to kill to make sure the desires of Israel to live secure and in peace don't happen, who kill to make sure the desires of the prime minister from the Palestinian Authority and others of a peaceful state living side by side with Israel do not happen," he said.
He urged anyone with ties to Hamas to block financing to the group.
It was just a week ago that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon stood alongside the President in Aqaba, Jordan promising to take the first steps under the so-called "road map" that envisions a Palestinian state by 2005. Prime Minister Abbas pledged to end violence and terrorism against Israel. Israel began dismantling some clusters of Jewish settlements built on Arab land.
But just two days after that summit, Hamas, which rejects any accommodation with Israel, broke off talks with Prime Minister Abbas about ending attacks against the Jewish state. Then, four Israeli soldiers were killed in an attack by Hamas and two other Palestinian militant groups, leading to a new cycle of violence that only intensified with Wednesday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
Even so, Secretary of State Colin Powell is making clear the Bush administration will not be deterred from pressing ahead with the peace process. "We once again are committed to moving forward along the path laid out at Aqaba," he said.
But the question now is whether Wednesday's violence will scuttle the tentative steps toward peace that Israel and the Palestinians took last week and whether U.S. pressure can keep both sides from drifting off the road map to peace.