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Jerusalem Bombing Kills Six; Powell Postpones Arafat Meeting

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters the meeting, which had been scheduled for Saturday, was postponed at the U.S.’s request.

“The Americans told us that the meeting between President Arafat and Mr. Powell is postponed, without saying why or when it will take place,” Azzam al-Ahmad, another Palestinian cabinet minister, told Reuters.

At least six people were killed and more than 80 wounded in the blast, which detonated near the crowded Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Police said the bomber, described as a young woman, loitered near the open-air shopping area before setting off “a very powerful bomb” at a nearby bus stop.

Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy told reporters the shopping area appeared to be the bomber’s intended target, but she changed her mind when she saw police patrolling the market’s entrance.

“She did not succeed at getting into the market and set off her bomb at a bus stop when a bus came to let off passengers,” Levy said.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, has taken responsibility for the attack.

The attack came as Powell, who traveled the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about halting the recent violence, was readying to leave Jerusalem by helicopter to survey Israel’s tense border with Lebanon. Powell was reportedly given an aerial tour of the attack scene on his way there.

“I condemn the terrorists for this act. It illustrates the dangerous situation that exists here,” Powell told reporters this morning.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush “will not be deterred from seeking peace” and will press on with “every effort” to broker a cease-fire.

Fleischer called on Arafat to denounce such suicide attacks, but so far the Palestinian leader, who has been under virtual house arrest in his Ramallah compound since December, has not publicly condemned it.

Prior to the latest attack, Powell met for several hours with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to reiterate the U.S. call for Israel to end its two-week incursion into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. The two, however, failed to establish a firm timetable for a withdrawal.

“I hope we can find a way to come to agreement on this point of the duration of the operations and get back to a track that will lead to a political settlement because that is uppermost in everyone’s mind,” Powell said after that meeting.