- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

SEATTLE (Agence France-Presse) — President Bush vowed yesterday to stay “very much engaged” personally in forging Middle East peace but insisted that ending anti-Israeli attacks is a condition for creating a Palestinian state.

“We’ll just keep working the issue hard,” he said. “If people want there to be peace in the Middle East, if the Palestinians want to see their own state, they’ve got to dismantle the terrorist networks.”

Earlier, Mr. Bush announced that he was widening the U.S. campaign against Hamas, freezing the assets of six of its top officials and of five organizations accused of helping the radical Palestinian group.

A senior administration official said the people targeted were based in Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, while the organizations were based in France, Switzerland, Britain, Austria and Lebanon.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the host countries had been informed prior to the freeze. Until yesterday, Washington had targeted only Hamas elements operating in the United States.

The president said the action was necessary after the group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing Tuesday that killed 20 persons on a crowded Jerusalem bus and dealt a potentially fatal blow to peace efforts.

“By claiming responsibility for the despicable act of terror on August 19, Hamas has reaffirmed that it is a terrorist organization committed to violence against Israelis and to undermining progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinian people,” the president said in a statement.

In remarks during a brief public appearance here, the U.S. leader denounced the violence and said he would work with leaders in the region to starve the militant groups who support it.

“I will continue to work with leaders in the neighborhood to encourage them, to cut off the money and the aid and the help that goes to these terrorist organizations.

“Suicide bombings kill innocent people. Children, women, they don’t care. They’re indiscriminate,” he said.

Hamas has threatened to step up attacks on Israelis after Israeli forces killed one of its leaders in retaliation for Tuesday’s bus bombing.

The upsurge in violence has left Washington scrambling to salvage its “road map” to peace, sending a top diplomat to the region and carrying out frenzied telephone diplomacy.

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