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Suicide bomber kills self and two bystanders in downtown Jerusalem; 42 wounded

(JERUSALEM) - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a main downtown Jerusalem shopping area Thursday, killing himself and two bystanders. At least 42 were inured, police said.

After the blast, Israel canceled Thursday's round of U.S.-brokered cease-fire talks with the Palestinians, said the Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, Jabril Rajoub. The U.S. Embassy confirmed there would be no meeting Thursday.

The blast went off only a day after an Islamic militant detonated explosives on a crowded commuter bus in northern Israel, killing himself and seven other passengers, including four soldiers.

The United States has been pushing both sides hard for a cease-fire ahead of next week's crucial Arab summit in Beirut, Lebanon, where Saudi Arabia was to present an Arab peace plan.

But Rajoub, who participated in two rounds of the talks over the past two days, said he was contacted by U.S. officials and told Thursday's talks were off. Paul Patin, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said that as far as he knew, no meeting would take place Thursday.

Israeli officials said no final decision had been made yet. Ranaan Gissin, adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he could not confirm the cancellation of the meeting. ``But there is no doubt that following such a horrendous attack, there is a need to reassess our overall position,'' he told CNN.

Israel held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for Thursday's attack, saying he has done nothing to rein in militants.

In a telephone call to The Associated Press, the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing.

The explosion went off at about 4:25 p.m. along King George Street, near the site of several other recent shooting and bombing attacks.

Witnesses said the attack was carried out near a cafe and a felafel stand.

``I was very close to him (the suicide bomber),'' said a witness, who would only give his first name, Israel. ``I saw him walking, looking here and there, and I saw he looked suspicious. I wanted to call someone, but I didn't have time. Then he blew up. I saw arms and legs flying all over the place.''

The suicide bomber raised suspicions of pedestrians in the area, a witness, Adi Aluz, told Israel TV's Channel One.

``I started following him,'' Aluz said. ``I told two cops about him, what he was wearing. They started following him. By the time they got to him he was already at King George Street. By that time, he blew up.''

Aluz said the suspect was wearing a denim coat with a hood, was smiling and kept looking backward.

Another witness, who only gave his first name, Israel, said he also felt the man was suspicious. ``I wanted to call someone, but I didn't have time. Then he blew up. I saw arms and legs flying all over the place.''

Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy said the blast killed three people, including the assailant, and wounded 42.

Shocked bystanders hugged each other, seeking comfort. Some cried or held their hands to their faces as ambulances, sirens wailing, evacuated the wounded.

Israel held Arafat responsible for the latest attack, saying he was not interested in a cease-fire. ``Israel is looking for a cease-fire and this is the Palestinian answer,'' said Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official.

One Arab man was led away from the scene by police. It was not immediately whether he was being protected from angry bystanders who gestured and yelled at him, or whether he was a suspect.

On Wednesday, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on an Israeli commuter bus, killing himself and seven other passengers. The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility.

The Palestinian Authority condemned Wednesday's attack, but had no immediate comment on Thursday's bombing.

The Al Aqsa Brigades identified Thursday's assailant as Mohammed Hashaika, 22, a resident of the West Bank village of Talooza, north of the city of Nablus.

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