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US Would Like to See Hamas 'Put Out of Business' - 2004-04-19

The Bush administration said Monday it would like to see the radical Palestinian faction Hamas "put out of business." It also reiterated its opposition to Israeli targeted killings, in the wake of Saturday's assassination in Gaza of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Officials said that Israel had neither asked for, nor was it given, U.S. approval for the attack Saturday that killed the Hamas chief and two others in Gaza. Additionally, they said they are concerned about the political fallout from the latest killing, even while acknowledging Israel's right to self-defense.

The Bush administration has been widely accused in the Middle East of providing Israel with at least a tacit "green light" for the Rantisi killing, given that it came less than three days after a critical White House meeting between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

However, at a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reaffirmed the United States had no advance knowledge of Israel's intentions and he recited from the White House statement issued late Saturday that expressed grave concern about regional stability in the aftermath of the Gaza attack.

"The United States is gravely concerned for regional peace and stability," he said. "The United States strongly urges Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions and we again urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint at this time. This is especially true at the moment when there is hope that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will bring a new opportunity for progress toward peace. All parties should focus on the positive, concrete steps needed now to make the Gaza withdrawal successful."

Mr. Boucher added that the United States had not changed its view that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and noted it had claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed an Israeli guard at a Gaza checkpoint only hours before the Rantisi killing.

He said the United States sees no role for Hamas in running Gaza after the envisaged Israeli withdrawal and is "looking for people to put Hamas out of business."

However, he made clear this should be done by the Palestinian Authority, by bringing an end to terrorism and terrorist groups, and by itself providing the social services that Hamas is credited with organizing in Gaza.

The spokesman confirmed that Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath has postponed a Washington visit that was to have included a meeting with Secretary of State Powell on Friday.

Palestinian officials said that decision was made before the Rantisi assassination, and is intended to underline their anger at last week's U.S. assertions that it is "unrealistic" to expect a full Israeli return to pre-1967 borders under a peace accord and that Palestinian refugees' "right of return" would be limited to an envisaged Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

Those issues are expected to dominate a private meeting Tuesday between Mr. Powell and Jordan's King Abdullah, a prelude to the Jordanian leader's White House talks with President Bush on Wednesday.