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Bush: Mideast Leaders Must 'Clear Path Toward Peace' - 2002-04-01

President Bush says suicide bombings are acts of terror and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must stop them. Mr. Bush says despite the upsurge in violence, Israel and the Palestinians must clear a path toward peace.

President Bush is calling on Yasser Arafat to order a halt to suicide bombings against Israelis.

"Suicide bombing in the name of religion is simple terror," he said. "And the free world, the civilized world must band together to stop this kind of activity if we expect there to be peace and resolution in the Middle East."

During a brief session with reporters, Mr. Bush was asked if Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority should be treated as entities that harbor terrorists. The president drew a distinction, noting the Palestinian leadership has worked in the past for peace.

"Well, Chairman Arafat has agreed to a peace process. He has agreed to the Tenet plan. He has agreed to the Mitchell plan. He has negotiated with the parties as to how to achieve peace," he said.

President Bush did not directly refer to Israeli retaliation against Yasser Arafat. But he appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to keep an eye on the big picture.

"I think it is very important for the prime minister to keep a pathway to peace open, to understand on one hand Israel should protect herself, and on the other hand, there ought to be a pathway, the capacity to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue," he said.

At the State Department, spokesman Philip Reeker took a somewhat tougher line. He said the United States is gravely concerned about the situation in the West Bank city of Ramallah and other areas where Israeli forces are moving. Mr. Reeker called on Israel to show maximum restraint.

The White House has not publicly asked Israel to withdraw from these areas. However, U.S. diplomats signed off on a U.N. Security Council resolution over the weekend that calls for a withdrawal along with other steps, such as a cease-fire.

Philip Reeker was asked about the seeming incongruity. He talked about a withdrawal as part of a package of actions the United States would like to see as soon as possible.

"We have said many times that Prime Minister Sharon has to decide what actions best serve not only the security interests, but the interests of the Israeli people in the long run," he said. "And so we want to see an immediate cease-fire, a withdrawal of Israeli forces. These are the critical steps and they should be undertaken now."

Mr. Reeker said the Israeli prime minister needs to carefully consider the consequences of his army's actions in Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat remains confined to a few rooms inside his headquarters. Israeli forces moved into Ramallah on Friday two days after a suicide bombing at a Passover celebration in the seaside town of Netanya.