updated 1/9/2007 8:13:13 PM ET 2007-01-10T01:13:13

The Basque separatist group ETA claimed responsibility Tuesday for a car bombing that killed two people but insisted a “permanent” cease-fire it called in March remained in force and that the deaths were unintentional.

In a statement sent to pro-independence newspaper Gara, ETA blamed the Spanish government for hindering a peace process launched with the truce announcement and said ETA reserved the right to respond if the government keeps up “aggression” against the movement.

The Dec. 30 bombing destroyed a five-story parking garage at Madrid’s international airport, killed two men and wounded 26. It also shattered a nine-month ETA cease-fire that Europe’s last armed political militancy had called permanent.

The blast stunned the government, which had said it was willing to negotiate with ETA and only a day before the explosion had expressed optimism about the peace process. The bombing also caught ETA’s political wing Batasuna off guard, suggesting a rift between the two camps.

ETA said it had not meant to cause casualties in the attack, accusing the government of failing to evacuate the parking garage despite three warning calls pointing out exactly where the vehicle containing the bomb was parked. The garage and nearby areas were evacuated, but the men killed happened to be asleep in parked cars.

ETA blamed the government and the governing Socialist party for “placing obstacles endlessly in the democratic process,” Gara said in a summary of what it called a long Basque-language statement.

Hours before ETA’s statement, the government announced the arrest of two suspected ETA members in southern France linked to arms caches found in late December and last week in the Basque region. They were the first arrests since the Madrid bombing.

ETA and its political supporters had been warning in recent months that continued arrests and trials of suspected ETA members were endangering the peace process, which was launched with its cease-fire announcement March 22. It had also been demanding — and the government refusing — the transfer of ETA prisoners from jails around Spain to prisons in the Basque region.

Spain’s government has responded to the bombing by scrapping plans for negotiations with ETA and declaring the once-promising peace process terminated.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said he had not immediately read ETA’s statement, but his initial impression was that “ETA has only one path left to take, which is to end the violence.”

Asked when the government might again take up the idea of negotiating with ETA, he said, “I cannot conceive of that dialogue resuming.”

ETA insisted progress in the peace process must come from a “political agreement” that includes “the minimum democratic rights owed to the Basque country,” an apparent reference to Basques’ long-standing demands to be able to decide between independence and remaining part of Spain.

ETA has killed more than 800 people since the 1960s in its quest for an independent Basque homeland.

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