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Explosion Rocks Israeli Bus Despite Efforts to Promote 'Road Map' Peace Plan - 2003-05-23

An explosion has rocked a bus near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza strip. At least nine Israelis have been injured. The blast came as new efforts were being made to promote the "road map" to peace, which calls for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within three years.

The Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

The wounded have all been taken to hospitals for treatment and Israeli soldiers are combing the area in search of those behind the explosion.

Palestinian residents said Israeli tanks also fired at Palestinian gunmen around Netzarim, in the aftermath of the attack.

Members of the military wing of Hamas proclaimed they had targeted the bus at a rally in the Palestinian refugee camp in nearby Jabalya.

The gathering was organized to protest the U.S. sponsored "road map" to peace.

Israeli media reported Friday that the White House is close to reaching a compromise that would allow the Israeli government to give, in principle, support to the plan.

According to the reports, the United States would recognize the importance of Israel's comments on the proposals and confirm that its reservations are taken into account during implementation of the plan.

The Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas says his leadership has accepted the plan and wants no changes.

But he has been unable to win the backing of groups such as Hamas.

Mr. Abbas met with Hamas leaders in Gaza Thursday for the first time since taking office. Hamas turned down his request to suspend their attacks to allow time for negotiations with Israel to succeed.

The organization launched four of the five suicide bombings last week, including one that killed seven Israelis on a commuter bus.