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US Congress Stresses Need for Palestinians to Crack Down on Terror - 2003-06-11

Members of Congress say the latest Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel underscores the need for Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to crack down on Palestinian militants.

First reports of the bus bombing in Jerusalem came just as the House International Relations Committee was beginning a hearing on the so-called "road map" for peace.

As committee chairman Henry Hyde read his opening statement predicting inevitable setbacks and the need for miracles, he paused to read a news agency dispatch from Jerusalem. "I have just been handed a note, apparently many people killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem, just now," he reported to his colleagues.

Others on the committee said the latest violence demonstrate the need for strong action against Hamas and other militant groups.

Congressman Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the committee, believes Prime Minister Abbas has not matched Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in actions since peace summit in Aqaba, Jordan. "Until he does, until he fights Palestinian terrorism with armed force, the new initiative to bring peace to the Middle East will be a road map to nowhere," said Congressman Lantos.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, William Burns, repeated strong condemnation of the latest bombing, saying the United States intends to press Israelis and Palestinians to follow through on commitments made at Aqaba.

But he was pressed by Mr. Lantos about two main issues: Prime Minister Abbas' refusal to use force against militants, and realistic prospects that a re-built and re-organized Palestinian security services could deal with these groups.

"The goal has to be the decisive defeat, the disarming, the demobilization, the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, said Mr. Burns, who was interrupted by Congressman Lantos, who asked, "Do you anticipate this to be achieved through persuasion?"

"I think it will have to be achieved with whatever means are necessary to achieve it. And I don't think personally that persuasion alone is going to result in that outcome," said the administration official.

But others on the committee were not satisfied. Congressman Robert Wexler calls the goal of empowering Prime Minister Abbas a "charade" until the question of how the Palestinian security services are going to be rebuilt is answered.

"So long as we stick with our policy of not providing assistant to the Palestinian Authority, how is it that we envision that Prime Minister Abbas will ever have the ability to deal with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the like?" wondered Mr. Wexler. "Either we are going to provide it, the Israelis are going to provide it, the Egyptians are going to provide it, but it seems so far that no one is providing it so who are we kidding? How can Prime Minister Abbas in any reasonable expectation have the capability to deliver on what we all hope is his genuine mission?"

Lawmakers also questioned Mr. Burns about the ability of Prime Minister Abbas to counter the influence of Yasser Arafat, while facing resistance from Palestinian militant groups.