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Israel’s Sharon Cancels Peace Talks After Weekend Attack

BY Admin  March 15, 2004 at 2:43 PM EDT

In an address to parliament, Sharon said he would coordinate a unilateral disengagement plan with the United States and other allies, but had no faith in his Palestinian counterparts.

The prime minister said Sunday’s double suicide bombing in the Israeli port of Ashdod, which killed ten people, “reinforces the understanding that there is no Palestinian leader with the courage, the ability, to struggle against terrorism.”

Sharon did not give details of his plan, but has recently spoken of evacuating Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank, while imposing a boundary there.

Following his speech, the parliament narrowly approved Sharon’s policy by a vote of 46-45. Representatives of two of Sharon’s three coalition partners, the pro-settlement National Union and National Religious Party, stayed away from the chamber during the vote.

Sharon’s comments about going it alone have angered Palestinians, who say his real objective is to take control of large parts of their territory. They insist that all steps on the ground must be approved through negotiations.

The prime minister’s moves come after a bombing Sunday that was carried out by two high school students from the Gaza refugee camp who managed to slip into Israel despite a heavily patrolled fence ringing the strip.

The teens carried high-grade plastic explosives and were headed for fuel storage tanks in Ashdod.

The Islamic militant Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed joint responsibility.

One Al Aqsa leader in Gaza, who identified himself only as Abu Qusay, told the Associate Press in a telephone interview that “this is a message to the Israelis that all their walls and fences cannot prevent us from infiltrating Israel and doing whatever we want.”

Abu Qusay said the militant groups were trying to carry out more devastating attacks. “We planned this attack to be a major one, to target their infrastructure, to show them that not only can we kill you, but destroy your infrastructure as well, like you destroy ours,” he said.

The Israeli military responded with helicopter attacks on two suspected Hamas weapons workshops in Gaza City.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned Sunday’s attack on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and expressed regret that Israel canceled the summit.