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More Violence in the Middle East

Palestinian gunmen kill 8 people and wound 30 in an attack on an Israeli bus. Minutes later, two suicide bombers strike in the Gaza Strip. The new bloodshed threatens to wreck efforts to end nearly 15 months of violence.

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Israeli settlers approach a car damaged in a suicide attack on Wednesday.

The United States on Wednesday condemned the latest violence in the Middle East. The U.S. urged Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to take immediate action to catch those responsible.

Eight people were killed and at least 30 wounded on Wednesday when Palestinian gunmen ambushed a bus. It was en route from Tel Aviv to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Only minutes after the bus attack, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Gaza Strip.

The attacks followed an Israeli helicopter attack that killed four Palestinian militants overnight in the Gaza Strip.

International pressure mounts on the Middle East

As the violence between Israelis and Palestinians continues, international representatives are still doing their utmost to bring the two sides closer to a cease-fire.

"We are convinced that only determined and concerted action by the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and the Russian Federation can help the parties break the cycle of violence and commit themselves once again to the search for peace," the EU foreign ministers said in a joint statement.

The ministers called for "the reaffirmation and full recognition of Israel’s irrevocable right to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders". But they also said "a viable and democratic Palestinian State" needed to be established. Furthermore, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories was necessary.

As a first step, the Palestinian authority must dismantle the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist networks, the EU demanded. This included the arrest and prosecution of all suspects.

In addition, the Israeli government must withdraw its military forces and stop extra-judicial killings of Palestinian militants, the ministers said. They called on Israel to withdraw its armed forces, lift blockades of Palestinian areas and freeze building at Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

The ministers said they wanted "a speedy resumption of negotiations, without preliminaries".

EU has joined negotiating force in Israel

EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana traveled to Israel on Tuesday to bolster the US peace efforts. Solana held separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US envoy Anthony Zinni in Jerusalem. He met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah later on Tuesday.

"I will tell Mr Arafat tonight the same thing that I have been telling (him) lately: that he has to continue fighting against terror and that’s his obligation at this point of time," Solana told reporters after meeting Sharon and Zinni.

In addition to Solana and Zinni, UN envoy Terje Larsen and the Russian diplomat Andrej Wdowin are trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Israel.

Are Arafat’s days numbered?

Many observers question whether Arafat will be able to meet these demands and claim his days are numbered.

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell on a visit to Germany on Monday reiterated that the US recognized Arafat as the elected leader of the Palestinian authority.

"We are asking him to do everything in his power to get the violence down and to deal with these elements within the Palestinian community who have resorted to this kind of violence, and who are destroying the vision of peace."

Powell said these groups were only attacking Israel and Israeli citizens. "They are attacking Arafat’s position as a leader," he said. "We have said to him clearly that this is a challenge he cannot let go unanswered. He has to respond."

Peace efforts urgently necessary

The recent escalation of violence in the Middle East has given greater urgency to peace efforts for the region, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in the Norwegian capital of Oslo where he attended Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies.

Annan stressed the need for a collective international effort to bring the parties "back from the brink". In conflict situations in general, he pointed out, "it is when the whole international community acts with unity and as one that we are often able to have the right impact".

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