ISRAELIS and Palestinians fell short of meeting a crucial negotiating deadline today after a suicide bombing yesterday killed six people in a north Tel Aviv suburb.
July 25 was the target date for reaching an agreement on partially withdrawing Israeli troops from the occupied West Bank. Israeli and Palestinian teams were originally due to finish talks by July 1, but they remain deeply divided over distribution of West Bank water resources and Palestinian security powers.
The suicide bombing is a further setback, but Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says that negotiations will resume later this week.
''We can't let [the bombers] achieve their political goals. We'll continue in the negotiations. After the funerals we'll return and determine the date to continue,'' he declared.
The extremist Islamic group Hamas reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing, which injured another 33 Israelis.
If Hamas is responsible, the attack would represent a slap in the face of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Mr. Arafat has recently tried to keep his militant opponents from attacking Israelis during the peace negotiations.
''I condemn completely these terrorist activities. This is an attempt to sabotage the talks and the peace process,'' Arafat said yesterday in his most prompt and explicit denunciation of such an attack to date.
Talks over Israel's partial withdrawal from the West Bank have been dragging on since last fall, when a series of Palestinian suicide- bombing attacks - and attempted attacks - claimed dozens of victims.
Over the past few months, Arafat has clamped down on militant opponents, who also represent a challenge to his Palestinian Authority. And until recently, the crackdown appeared to have reduced the violence.
But just last week, tensions mounted again after two young Israeli hikers were killed near Jerusalem in an attack claimed by the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Right-wing Israelis said the recent upswing in violence was a ploy engineered by Arafat to put pressure on Israel during the talks, while Arafat's aides hotly denied that the Palestinian Authority bore responsibility.
''The Palestinian Authority is doing everything it can to stope the violence. We've made a huge effort,'' said Hisham Abdel Ghazak, a Palestinian spokesman.
In the Israeli Dead Sea resort area of Sedom, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators suspended talks for several hours after the attack. Israel closed off the West Bank and Gaza and sent thousands of Palestinian workers inside Israel back to their homes.
In Ramat Gan, the suburb where the attack occurred, Israeli demonstrators attacked Police Minister Moshe Shahal when he visited the scene. They denounced the current government's peace policies and called on Rabin to resign.