Israel abstains from retaliation

U.S. considerations prompt break in pattern


JERUSALEM - Israel did not retaliate yesterday for the bombing of a bus that killed 14 passengers Monday. Officials said the restraint was a nod to American concerns that rising violence here could disrupt plans for possible military action against Iraq.

Departing from what has become a regular pattern after previous suicide bombings during more than two years of violent conflict, the government did not order the army into action in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the U.S. stance was being taken into account.

"There are those who say that we need to react now and immediately with all power and all force," he told Army Radio. "On the other hand, we could cause difficulties for the Americans. If the Americans attack Iraq, it's in our interest as well as that of the Americans."

Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said: "Israel will certainly take into account America's regional considerations. The government of Israel does what is necessary to protect the civilians of Israel, at the same time the selection of the timing and approach is going to take into account wider regional interests of the United States."

Sharon, who recently returned from a visit to Washington, has reportedly been asked by American officials to curb Israeli military responses to Palestinian violence as the United States tries to enlist the support of Arab countries for a possible strike against Iraq.

A 10-day Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, after a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last month was criticized by Bush administration officials as damaging U.S. diplomatic efforts and slowing the process of Palestinian reform.

The decision to hold off a military response this time came on the eve of a new round of U.S. peace diplomacy.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is scheduled to arrive in Israel today for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on a proposed U.S. "road map" to negotiations and a final peace agreement.

The blueprint calls for a truce, Israeli troop pullbacks to positions held before the violence began, and establishment of a provisional Palestinian state as a prelude to negotiations of a final peace agreement.

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