- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

President Bush said yesterday that he would press forward with the “road map” for Middle East peace despite a recent wave of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israel, whose perpetrators he called “sad and pathetic.”

“We’re still on the road to peace — it’s just going to be a bumpy road, and I’m not going to get off the road until we reach the vision” of two states living side by side in peace by 2005, Mr. Bush said hours after the latest suicide bombing, in the northern Israeli city of Afula.

“I’m confident we can move the peace process forward,” he told reporters at a White House press conference with visiting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines. “But it is clear that the process is not going to be smooth so long as terrorists kill.”

The Bush administration also said that for the internationally sponsored peace plan to succeed, the new Palestinian Cabinet of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas must take hold of security and the two sides must resume security talks.

The State Department issued its traditional call “for both sides to take immediate and concrete action,” but it repeatedly emphasized the need for Mr. Abbas to take control of the Palestinian security infrastructure and dismantle militant groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“We call on the Palestinians to take immediate and decisive action to eradicate this infrastructure of terrorism and violence that has wrought such tragic bloodshed for both Palestinians and Israelis and has undermined Palestinian aspirations,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

According to press reports from the region citing a Palestinian Interior Ministry statement, Mr. Abbas last night made major personnel appointments as part of his efforts to rebuild the Palestinian security forces.

The ministry said Gen. Abdelhaid Abdelouahad was named a deputy interior minister and head of civil defense, while Gen. Mahmud Asfour was appointed head of the Palestinian police and a deputy interior minister.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke with Mr. Abbas, as well as with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, on Sunday, Mr. Boucher said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed a visit to Washington today because of the new wave of suicide attacks.

Yesterday’s bombing at a shopping mall, which killed three Israelis and wounded more than 40, was the fifth in 48 hours. Hamas claimed responsibility for the previous four attacks, which left 13 dead and dozens injured.

“As long as the occupation remains on our land and as long as the occupation soldiers are breathing our air, we will continue our resistance,” the group’s spokesman, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, said yesterday.

Mr. Abbas, after a meeting with Mr. Powell in the West Bank town of Jericho last week, told reporters his Cabinet will be the only authority in the Palestinian territories.

A senior State Department official who attended the Powell-Abbas talks said that was a code for putting the extremist groups out of business. Mr. Abbas intended to begin the process through dialogue, he said.

Asked yesterday whether it was likely for those groups to sit down and discuss their own destruction, the official said, “Probably not.” But Mr. Abbas “will have to figure out how to do it,” he added.

Even before last night’s personnel changes, when asked whether the new prime minister was determined to crack down on militants, Mr. Boucher said, “I have seen nothing to put in doubt his commitment” to stop the violence.

During Mr. Powell’s trip, the Palestinians dropped their objections to the peace plan, but Israel refused to publicly accept it because of some of its provisions, including those relating to Jewish settlements.

Mr. Powell did not press Mr. Sharon to embrace the peace plan, saying his offer of certain humanitarian gestures was more important than a public announcement.

There was speculation in the region last week, before Mr. Sharon canceled his travel plans, that the Israeli prime minister might accept the blueprint after expressing specific concerns about it to Mr. Bush at the White House.

The road map was drafted late last year by the so-called Quartet for Middle East peace, which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, but it was not published until Mr. Abbas was sworn in late last month.

On Saturday, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon met for the first time in what Mr. Boucher called “an important step in the right direction in restoring an active dialogue between the two sides.”

“We fully support these efforts to begin discussing the road map and to try to bring peace to this troubled region,” he said.

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