- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

President Bush leveled some of his harshest criticism yet of Israel yesterday as his special envoy left Washington in a bid to halt a spiraling civilian death toll in the nearly 18-month-old Palestinian uprising.
"Frankly, it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in order to create conditions for peace," Mr. Bush said in a nationally televised news conference.
"I understand someone trying to defend themselves, to fight terror. But the recent actions aren't helpful," he said.
The president spoke as retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni left for Jerusalem on an open-ended mission to arrange a truce amid the bloodiest daily cycles of violence since the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks in late 2000.
More than 200 people have died in the past two weeks a period marked by Palestinian suicide bombings and retaliatory strikes by Israel, which has deployed 20,000 troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"It breaks my heart … to see young children lose their life as a result of violence, young children on both sides of this issue," Mr. Bush said.
He urged both parties to adhere to a truce plan drafted months ago by CIA Director George J. Tenet a plan that has repeatedly collapsed.
"Zinni's job is to go over there and to work to get conditions such that we can get into Tenet. And he's got a lot of work to do. But if I didn't think he could make progress, I wouldn't have asked him to go," Mr. Bush said.
The president's remarks underscored a shift in U.S. emphasis in recent days, from putting the onus on Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to placing more weight on Israel, urging it to exercise restraint.
The United States warned Israel earlier yesterday that military operations in which Palestinian civilians have died threatened to undercut Gen. Zinni's efforts to negotiate a cease-fire.
Washington said it also found troubling the killing of an Italian journalist in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Gen. Zinni is expected in Jerusalem this afternoon his third such mission to the Middle East. He left the region in January after failing to arrange an armistice.
Reflecting a change in tack by the Bush administration, the United States sponsored a resolution calling for Palestinian statehood that was approved unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday night.
It was the first time that the United States had sponsored a written resolution dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since backing the creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon in 1978, U.S. diplomats said.
Mr. Bush yesterday praised the U.N. resolution as "a hopeful statement."
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, a U.S. official said envoys had consulted extensively with both Israelis and Palestinians in drafting the two-page document.
"We wanted to make sure that if the council was going to act, that it send a balanced, fair, unequivocal message to the parties," the official said.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly denounced Israel's "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territories, his strongest denunciation yet.
At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Annan defended his remarks.
"Issues such as establishment of settlements, the imposition of Israeli laws and jurisdiction, and administration over East Jerusalem and some of the events we have witnessed have been described as illegal," he said.
The secretary-general said he had written to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, asking him to investigate reports of targeted assassinations of Palestinians as well as efforts by Israeli troops to block ambulances from reaching the wounded and to interfere with health workers.
He also asked the prime minister to probe reports of Israeli attacks "with heavy weapons in heavily civilian areas."
Even the White House was critical of the images beaming back from the Middle East.
"We remain very concerned about repeated Israeli Defense Force actions that result in high numbers of Palestinian casualties, including casualties, whether it's deliberate or not, of civilians and humanitarian workers," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Mr. Bush yesterday indicated that the Arab leadership may well be tiring of the incessant violence, which has claimed more than 1,500 lives.
The president praised Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 war.
"The first and most important qualification … for there to be peace is for people in the region to recognize Israel's right to exist," Mr. Bush said.
"I can't think of anything more deep than that right, that ultimate and final security, and when the crown prince indicated that was on his mind, we strongly embraced that."


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