Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will meet Tuesday in Israeli territory according to a senior Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“This is the beginning of a very difficult chapter. We should be free to speak whatever is on our hearts and minds,” Peres said.
The Bush administration says it has worked closely with both sides to help prepare for a useful and positive meeting.
On the streets, however, the violence continues. Five Israeli Jews and three Arab militants were killed and dozens wounded in attacks this weekend, which included the first apparent suicide bombing by an Arab-Israeli.
The Islamic militant group Hamas announced that it recruited the bomber, Muhammed Shaker Habishi, who blew himself up Sunday at a train station in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, killing himself and three Israeli Jews. Habashi’s blue Israeli identity card was found at the scene.
In a leaflet distributed in the West Bank town of Jenin, Hamas boasted that the attack proved its ability to strike deep within Israel, despite stringent Israeli closures.
The involvement of an Arab citizen in a suicide attack has heightened anxiety levels.
“For much of the public, a suicide bomber from among the Israeli Arabs is a nightmare that has come true,” wrote commentator Hemi Shalev in the Maariv daily.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population of 6.5 million. Unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli Arabs can move freely, making it much more difficult for the Israeli security forces to stop an attack.
Police said Israel security forces began suspecting Habishi last month, and sent anti-terrorist units to his two homes, but the suspect slipped away.
Habishi was a member of the Islamic Movement, a legal organization in Israel. The group runs a network of social services and collects money to help alleviate the growing poverty among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Kamel Khatib, a senior figure in the Islamic movement, condemned the bombing and said Habashi did not represent the movement.
“They (the extremists) should understand that they are weeds and not part of the Islamic movement that includes tens of thousands of members,” he said.
A second bomb went off outside the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, a frequent target of Palestinian attackers. The bomb obliterated a car, killing the driver, and set fire to several vehicles. Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire during an attempt to plant a bomb near a fence in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said.
The more than 11 months of fighting have killed 613 Palestinians and 170 Israelis.