The Bush administration has condemned Wednesday's attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, saying it is "imperative" that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat move against extremist factions responsible for anti-Israeli terror incidents. The West Bank bus attack, which killed at least 10 people, and suicide bombings in Gaza came as U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni continued an effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
Mr. Zinni's Middle East mission, now more than two weeks old, has been punctuated by a series of Palestinian terror attacks and lethal Israeli military strikes in the West Bank and Gaza. But the State Department says the retired U.S. Marine general intends to remain in the region "for the foreseeable future" to try to nail down the cease-fire the two parties ostensibly accepted several months ago.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration condemned Wednesday's bus attack outside a Jewish settlement in the northern part of the West Bank "in the strongest terms" and said it underscored again the need for Mr. Arafat to crack down on Palestinian militants attacking Israeli civilians. "It's absolutely imperative that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority act immediately to undertake all possible measures to pursue and apprehend those responsible for these horrific actions, and insure that the organizations responsible are unable to commit further terror," he said. "We're deeply troubled by the fact that these groups continue to have freedom to conduct their actions. As we've said before, only immediate, serious and sustained efforts by Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian authority against both the individuals and the infrastructure of the groups that plan, support and execute violence and terror can make possible an end to the suffering of Palestinians."
Mr. Boucher said the Palestinian leader has made promising statements in recent days about his readiness to move against armed groups, but that verbal commitments and temporary jailings of key militants are "not enough."
He said as the Palestinian Authority acts, the United States would look to Israel to respond with actions to improve the situation and move the sides closer to a cease-fire.
Asked if the administration was similarly critical of Israeli military strikes in Palestinian areas that have caused civilian casualties, Mr. Boucher said it condemns the death of all innocent people and has cautioned both sides to "consider the repercussions" of their actions.
Mr. Zinni, who once commanded U.S. military forces in the Middle East, has held two joint meetings with Israeli and Palestinian security officials since Sunday, in a quest for implementation of the cease-fire negotiated last May by CIA Director George Tenet.
He had been reported in recent days to be considering breaking off his mission, though spokesman Boucher said he would stay in the area as long as the parties are willing to work with him.