- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

President Bush said yesterday that the international community must deal strongly with the Islamic terrorist group Hamas while a key Republican lawmaker suggested that U.S. military intervention might be necessary in Israel’s war with Palestinian terrorists.

“It is clear that the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas and the killers. And that’s just the way it is in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said after attending services at First Congregational Church in Kennebunkport, Maine.

He said his objective as president is to move forward the peace process, which he started at a June 4 summit in Jordan that involved Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

He repeated yesterday that his intention is a “peaceful Palestinian state living side by side with the Israelis,” a goal the summit set for 2005.

“The message is clear: Prime Minister Abbas wants peace; Prime Minister Sharon wants peace; America wants peace; the European Union wants peace. But there are clearly killers who don’t,” Mr. Bush said.

“And for those of us who are interested in moving the process forward, we must combine our efforts to cut off all money, support for anybody who tries to sabotage the peace process. For those of us who want peace to go forward, we must combine our efforts to prevent people like Hamas from sabotaging peace,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush declined to answer whether the United States would provide money or arms to the Palestinian authorities to help quash Hamas, which sponsors suicide bombings, has rejected Palestinian Authority calls for a cease-fire with Israel and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

However, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested on “Fox News Sunday” that U.S. and international forces pursue Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Mr. Lugar said the use of American military forces, whether joined with NATO or the United Nations, should not be considered until all Israeli-Palestinian talks have successfully concluded and the situation on the ground is calm.

“But clearly, if force is required ultimately to rout terrorism, it is possible that there will be an American participation,” Mr. Lugar said.

He added that the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas “simply does not have security forces that are adequate to take on Hamas, quite apart from even the territories being suggested for his security now.”

Asked by host Tony Snow whether that meant “international forces ought to be going after Hamas,” Mr. Lugar said: “That may be the conclusion.

“It may not be just Hamas, but clearly Hamas is right in the gun sights,” said Mr. Lugar, who will lead a congressional delegation to Jordan and Iraq next week.

Besides Hamas, such Palestinian groups as Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have been involved in the recent wave of suicide bombings, which have killed dozens of Israelis since Mr. Bush’s peace summit.

Mr. Lugar also warned against underestimating Mr. Bush or his commitment to peace in the Middle East and opposition to terrorism.

“I’m just saying that failure, really, is not a possibility here — if we pursue it avidly, which I think the president will do,” Mr. Lugar said. “The terrorist aspect really has to be dealt with, and that’s why I say don’t underestimate President Bush.”

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was reluctant to commit to using U.S. troops, saying they might not be welcome.

“I think the Congress would be very cautious,” Mr. Levin said. “We would, first of all, want to know whether the parties would want an international force there.

“But I think, more importantly, we’ve got to get the Palestinian Authority to track down Hamas. And we’ve got to do what we can to support any efforts on their part to track down Hamas. They have got to keep the peace in the Palestinian areas, and I think that that should be our major focus,” Mr. Levin said.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has suggested NATO troops as part of a peacekeeping force, and Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said most lawmakers have thought of troops being used in that role.

What Mr. Lugar is suggesting, however, is far beyond peacekeeping, Mr. Roberts said.

“The problem is, if there’s no peace to be kept, the individuals concerned simply become targets,” said Mr. Roberts, who also appeared on “Face the Nation.”

“I think he’s suggesting that we actively take on Hamas. That would be a rather dramatic step, to say the least,” Mr. Roberts said.

An Israeli government spokesman, reacting to Mr. Lugar’s interview, was cool to the possibility of U.S. or other international forces battling Palestinian terror groups.

“We are always happy to see American actions against terrorism, but with all due respect, we don’t need them to do our fighting for us,” Raanan Gissin told Reuters news agency in Jerusalem.

Since the Jordan meeting, renewed Palestinian terrorism — capped by a bus bombing by Hamas — has killed 24 Israelis, mostly civilians, and sparked a series of retaliatory raids by Israel that have killed 36 Palestinians.

In the latest fighting, a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in a northern Gaza town resulted in the death of one Palestinian and the wounding of seven others.

Israel and the Palestinians continued their talks yesterday on a security deal, seeking an Israeli troop pullback from Bethlehem and the northern Gaza Strip in return for a Palestinian crackdown on Islamic militants in those two areas, officials told Reuters in Jerusalem.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said details would be discussed at a meeting between Israeli Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad and Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, a follow-up to talks the two held Saturday.

Egyptian security officials traveled to Gaza in a bid to persuade militants to resume talks with Mr. Abbas on a cease-fire. They would later meet Hamas representatives, although a Hamas leader said nothing would come of the meeting.

“There is an occupation that needs to end and an aggression that must stop,” said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, whom Israel targeted in a helicopter raid last week.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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