Attack on US convoy in Gaza Strip: Bush blames PA leadership, Palestinian factions deny involvement
A bomb exploded near a vehicle of a U.S. convoy carrying some U.S. officials in the northern Gaza Strip Wednesday, killed three Americans and wounded another one, Palestinian sources reported. The body of one of the Americans was taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
The American officials, including a cultural envoy from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, were headed to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships in the U.S.
Media reports said that the victims of the blast were security men hired from a private company, and not U.S. officials.
The Associated Press reported that the blast went off about 2 kilometers south of the Erez crossing as the convoy went by a gas station on the outskirts of the town of Beit Lahiya.
There were conflicting reports about the cause of the explosion. Palestinian security officials initially said a suicide bomber jumped in front of the vehicle, while witnesses said a roadside bomb or land mine apparently went off under the car.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel called on the Palestinian Authority to capture the bombers. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer also told reporters that Washington would continue to work for an end to Palestinian-Israeli violence despite the bombing. Kurtzer also said that the FBI was sending a team to investigate the bombing.
Following the attack, the U.S. embassy in Israel advised all American citizens to leave Gaza Strip.
Responding to the attack, a State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. would pursue the people who carried out the attack until they are brought to justice.
U.S. President George W. Bush blamed Palestinian authorities for the deaths of the three Americans, saying their failure to create "terrorist-fighting security forces continues to cost lives."
In a written statement, Bush said "Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms."
Putting the blame squarely on the Palestinian leadership, he said, "The failure to create effective Palestinian security forces dedicated to fighting terror continues to cost lives. There must be an empowered prime minister who controls all Palestinian forces - reforms that continue to be blocked by Yasser Arafat."
"The failure to undertake these reforms and dismantle the terrorist organizations constitutes the greatest obstacle to achieving the Palestinian people's dream of statehood," Bush said.
"The U.S. embassy officials traveling in Gaza were there to interview young Palestinian candidates seeking Fulbright scholarships to study in the United States," Bush said. "This is another example of how the terrorists are enemies of progress and opportunity for the Palestinian people."
EU leaders also took the Palestinians to task, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana telling Yasser Arafat that "condemnations and excuses will not do.”
On its part, the Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the attack. He called it an "ugly crime, and ordered a probe into the blast.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei called for the immediate setting up of a probe into the attack.
Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat described the blast as a "devastating act" that would undermine Palestinian interests. He said the bombing of an official U.S. vehicle would have "harsh consequences" for Palestinian efforts to bring "international observers to the territories."
Erekat called for the establishment of a joint U.S.-Palestinian team to investigate the circumstances of the attack. "We will do everything to bring those responsible to
justice," he said.
On his part, the special envoy of the Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Vdovin, now in Beirut, resolutely condemned the attack in the Gaza Strip.
"Such actions seriously hamper the work by the international mediators on settlement," Andrei Vdovin told RIA Novosti.
He expressed condolences to the families and the near ones of the killed.
Hours after the blast, an armed group calling itself the Popular Resistance Committees claimed the attack, in an anonymous telephone call to AFP.
"The Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza claim responsibility for this operation targetting US intelligence service vehicles near the Erez terminal," the caller told AFP.
He said the attack was in response to the "action of the Israeli occupation forces in the brave town of Rafah." The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) is a coalition of Fatah and Islamist groups, which operate in the Gaza Strip.
Formed shortly after the latest intifada began in September 2000, the PRC's attacks have killed or injured dozens of Jewish settlers and soldiers in the Gaza Strip. This group blew up two Israeli tanks, killing a total of six Israeli soldiers.
Later, however, the PRC denied any role in the bombing. "The Popular Resistance Committees in Palestine deny any involvement in this incident. We consider our fight to be solely with the Zionist enemy and we do not want to be involved in controversial secondary issues," the group said according to AFP.
Other Palestinian factions denied any involvement in it. A leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Adnan Asfour, said his movement policy was not to broaden the fight against the Israeli occupation to other nations and regions.
Also on Wednesday, three Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded when a bomb exploded under their vehicle in the central Gaza Strip. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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