Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called senior Palestinian and Israeli officials Thursday to press them to end the latest outbreak of Middle East violence. Israeli forces have conducted operations in Gaza and the West Bank after Wednesday's suicide bombing in Israel.
Ms. Rice telephoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Dov Weisglass, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, in a bid to halt violence that has stalled peace efforts six weeks after Israel's Gaza withdrawal.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged Mr. Abbas' condemnation of the suicide bombing in the northern Israeli town of Hadera Wednesday that touched off the latest surge in violence.
But he said the secretary believes Mr. Abbas' administration can do more to curb extremists like those who carried out the Hadera attack.
"She urged the Palestinian Authority to act against terrorist groups," said Mr. McCormack. "It is very clear that there are some groups, some individuals, who are intent upon derailing any hope of moving towards the overall goal of an Israel and a Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security."
Mr. McCormack said dismantling terrorist networks is a prime responsibility for the Palestinian authority under the international peace "road map," which the United States has hoped to revive after the Gaza disengagement.
In a series of military moves Thursday, Israel sent ground forces into the West bank city of Jenin and staged a helicopter attack in Gaza that killed several people, including a senior commander of Islamic Jihad, the faction that claimed responsibility for the Hadera attack.
No details of Secretary Rice's conversation with Mr. Weisglass were given, though spokesman McCormack reiterated long-standing U.S. policy that Israel, in retaliating to acts of violence, should consider the possible ramifications for peace efforts:
"We make it clear, of course, that Israel has a right to defend itself. That's well known and well understood," he added. "We also encourage Israel, in deciding what actions it needs to take in order to defend itself, to consider the consequences of its actions on achieving the overall goal we all share."
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said Thursday he would not halt the offensive until the Palestinian Authority moves decisively against militant attacks, and also said he would not hold talks with Mr. Abbas until the attacks stop.
Spokesman McCormack would not respond directly to Mr. Sharon's refusal to meet the Palestinian leader, but said the U.S. approach is to encourage more contact, rather than less, in order to work through problems and resolve them.
Mr. McCormack said Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch also had telephone contacts on the flare-up, and that U.S. security envoy General William Ward was holding meetings in the region.