- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The United States yesterday scrambled to keep the Middle East “road map” alive amid escalating attacks on Israelis and Palestinians, with President Bush asking “all of the free world” to use “every ounce of their power” to prevent more violence.

Despite the renewed cycle of bloodletting only a week after the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers shook hands at a summit in Jordan with Mr. Bush, the two sides pledged commitment to the peace process.

But the Bush administration, which found itself condemning violence for the third day in a row instead of reporting progress on promises made in Jordan, sounded a note of desperation.

“To the people in the world who want to see peace in the Middle East, I strongly urge all of you to fight off terror, to cut off money to organizations such as Hamas, to isolate those who hate so much that they are willing to kill to stop peace from going forward,” Mr. Bush said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, while acknowledging that there are “those who will do everything they can to stop progress from being made,” said that “this is the time for us to remain steadfast, to continue moving down the path that was laid out” at last week’s meeting in the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Administration officials declined to speculate on where Mideast peace efforts would go if the latest effort should fail.

Instead, they focused on saving the road map, which requires concrete security steps from both sides and envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

“What the president wants to see happen next is for the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to get back to the business of peace, to get back to the business of the road map,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The administration is determined to assist the two sides, officials said.

“Despite these challenges and obstacles, the president is clear that we will be there to help the parties move as quickly as possible to take advantage of the best opportunity we have had in a long time,” William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told the House International Relations Committee.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had a lunch meeting with Mr. Powell at the State Department yesterday, also called on the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, to stay the course.

“What happened this morning is utterly reprehensible, but it should not deter the leaders from moving ahead,” Mr. Annan said of the suicide bombing on a bus in central Jerusalem that killed 16 and wounded 70.

“Obviously, we should deal very firmly with all these terrorist attacks, but the only path to peace is the road map, the promise of Aqaba,” he said in an expression of disappointment with the developments that have followed the peace summit.

“We all were very hopeful after the meetings of Aqaba and the statements the leaders made with the strong support of the president,” Mr. Annan said. “We thought finally we were going to move forward, and I hope the leaders will not be deterred by these violent acts.”

Both Mr. Abbas and Yasser Arafat, the beleaguered Palestinian leader sidelined by the United States, condemned yesterday’s terrorist attack carried out by the militant group Hamas and demanded that Palestinian factions declare a cease-fire.

After the bus attack, Israel killed two Hamas officials in a missile attack, one day after an unsuccessful attempt on the life of another member of the group’s leadership that drew rare criticism from the Bush administration.

An Israeli official said in a telephone interview yesterday that the targeting of specific persons is motivated by Mr. Abbas’ inability to crack down on Hamas and other such groups — a task Israel thinks it should take upon itself for the time being.

“Abbas says he needs time, and we hope that one day he can take control,” the official said. “But in the interim period, are we supposed to take no action against Hamas? Are they free to attack us?”

He also said Israel was fully committed to the peace process and is continuing to dismantle unauthorized outposts in the Palestinian territories, as Mr. Sharon promised last week.

The prime minister said in a speech last night that his government will follow “the political process to ensure peace and security,” but it will also “continue to fight relentlessly against terrorism, against those who finance, plan and perpetrate attacks against Jews.”

Hamas has publicly rejected the road map in spite of its approval by most Arab leaders. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the leader who emerged from Tuesday’s attack with light wounds, vowed from his hospital bed “not to leave one Jew in Palestine.”

“Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians, so Israeli civilians should be targeted. From now on, all Israeli people are targets,” said Hamas’ spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

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