- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

President Bush yesterday scolded Israel for its helicopter strikes against a senior Hamas leader, saying the retaliatory attacks help neither Israeli security nor Palestinian efforts to suppress terror.

“I am troubled by the recent Israeli helicopter gunship attacks,” the president said. “I’m concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don’t believe the attacks help the Israeli security.”

Mr. Bush said Israel was not acting responsibly in attacking Palestinians over a terrorist attack Sunday that killed four Israeli soldiers. Still, he pledged to work to move forward the peace process.

“I am determined to keep the process on the road to peace. And I believe with responsible leadership by all parties, we can bring peace to the region. And I emphasize, all parties must behave responsibly to achieve that objective,” he said.

In the Israeli attack yesterday, helicopters fired missiles at a car carrying Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the most high-profile political leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas to be targeted by Israel in 32 months of fighting.

Mr. Rantisi said he jumped out of his car when he heard the choppers overhead. He was injured and underwent surgery. A bystander and a bodyguard were killed in the attack.

As high-level Bush administration officials telephoned senior leaders in the Middle East to express concern, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the United States is “concerned that this kind of activity will delay the kind of progress we are hoping for as we move down the road map.”

“My colleagues back in Washington are in touch with the Israeli government and have expressed our concern to the Israeli government,” Mr. Powell said during a trip to Buenos Aires.

The “road map” is Mr. Bush’s plan for peace endorsed last week at a summit by both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. The plan calls for concessions from both sides and culminates with full autonomy for a new Palestinian state by 2005.

The Israeli strike came less than a week after the Jordanian summit, at which Mr. Abbas vowed to battle terrorists and Mr. Sharon pledged to begin dismantling “unauthorized outposts” on Palestinian land — ending years of inaction on Middle East peace.

The Israeli attack followed the killing Sunday of four Israeli soldiers in an unusual joint operation by the terrorist groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

The White House said yesterday that Mr. Bush has not spoken to either Mr. Sharon or Mr. Abbas. Instead, a half-dozen senior administration officials telephoned top Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

While the administration yesterday strongly expressed its concern over the most recent attack, a senior administration official said there were no moves to cut off aid to either Israel or the Palestinians.

The White House remained optimistic about moving forward with the “road map.”

“What’s important in this new environment is for Palestinians and Israelis to find ways to work together on the path to peace,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “This is going to require both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to find new ways to protect the road map so it can advance to face terrorism.”

While the Bush administration often avows Israel’s right to defend itself, the spokesman said yesterday that the nation also “has to act on that right in a manner that is consistent with larger objectives, and in this case, the president views this as deeply troubling.”

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