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Annan condemns suicide bomb, sets quartet meeting

By Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 (Reuters) Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Palestinian Authority today to take a strong stand against suicide bombings and said the quartet of Middle East advisers would meet next month.

Speaking hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed nine people and wounded 60 in Israel, Annan told reporters he would host the quartet meeting in New York on May 9 that would also include ''regional partners'' from the Middle East.

Russia has previously suggested that Egypt and Jordan attend.

The quartet, now sharply divided, includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, and had devised a road map towards a negotiated two-state solution, which appears in tatters.

Russia has promised emergency aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority while the United States and EU have halted direct assistance to the government because it has not renounced violence, recognized Israel or agreed to abide by interim peace deals.

The United Nations has advised staff to avoid meeting senior Hamas ministers but continue humanitarian aid.

Annan told reporters he strongly condemned the suicide bombing and urged Hamas to follow President Mahmoud Abbas in criticizing it.

The Islamic Jihad group has taken responsibility for the attack.

''I hope President Abbas will be able to get the Authority to also take a firm stand against this, and I've urged him to do that,'' Annan said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the Tel Aviv bombing ''a natural result of the continued Israeli crimes against our people.'' ''Our people are in a state of self-defense and they have every right to use all means to defend themselves,'' he said.

Annan said it was important that neither side take action that put civilians at risk.

In the past week, Israel has bombarded targets in Gaza, from where militants often fire home-made rockets into Israel. At least 15 Palestinians, mostly fighters, have been killed -- the highest Gaza death toll since Israel pulled out in August and September last year after 38 years of occupation.

REUTERS PDS PM0331

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