- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

LONDON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday praised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for his response to Friday’s suicide bombing in Israel and said it was not part of the “old pattern” of Palestinian terrorism.

Mr. Abbas, who condemned the attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub and ordered the arrests of several people with possible links to the incident, spoke even more forcefully yesterday in London, ahead of an international conference on Palestinian reforms.

“Such actions will not be tolerated by us, as they are against the Palestinian interests,” he told the British newspaper the Independent.

The London conference, hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be attended by Miss Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, World Bank officials and foreign ministers from about 25 European and Arab countries.

Miss Rice said that Mr. Abbas’ response to the attack had been “exactly right” and that the bombing should not derail the recent peace efforts by Israelis and Palestinians.

“There are going to be ups and downs in this process. It’s not going to be a straight line,” the secretary told reporters flying with her to London. “I don’t think we are in the same old pattern.”

She said both sides had responded to the attack with “considerable maturity,” but added that the Palestinian Authority could do more to discourage terrorism.

“Obviously, when you have Palestinian Islamic Jihad taking responsibility, then something needs to be done about that, because they are clearly challenging directly the Palestinian Authority,” she said.

Miss Rice called on the leaders attending the London conference — in which Israel refused to participate — to offer “concrete support” for Palestinian reforms, financially and otherwise.

“The strengthening of the Palestinians on the economic front — so that there is something to show for the Palestinian people from a Palestinian Authority that is dedicated to peace — is an important part of getting a better environment in the Palestinian territories,” she said.

Miss Rice said she could not confirm Syrian involvement in the Friday attack, even as Israel mounted a diplomatic campaign to prove that Damascus had a hand in the bombing.

Israel says the order for the bombing came from Islamic Jihad’s office in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israeli officials were quoted in wire service reports as saying their diplomats would make simultaneous presentations in Washington, London and Paris.

Mr. Abbas also hinted at foreign involvement in the bombing, saying, “There may be other parties that want to destabilize the situation.”

Syria has denied any involvement in the attack.

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said on Sunday that it was “certainly possible” that Israel could strike at Syria. But later, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres signaled that Israel was likely to hold its fire while the United States puts more pressure on Damascus.

Tel Aviv last attacked Syria in October 2003, when Israeli warplanes bombed a base thought to have been used by Palestinian militants after a Palestinian suicide bombing killed 23 Israelis.

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