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Bush Urges Restraint From  Israelis, Palestinians Amid Escalating Violence - 2004-05-19

President Bush is urging restraint on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians amid escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. The president says he wants to get "clarification" on what occurred during an attack on Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli military forces.

The president says he has a message for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"It is essential that people respect innocent life in order for us to achieve peace," he said.

Mr. Bush declines to speak in detail about the latest developments in the region, including the attack on Palestinian demonstrators in southern Gaza that claimed numerous lives. He says he wants to get all the facts first from Israeli officials.

"And we will get clarification from the government," he said. "I have not had a chance to speak to the government, or be briefed, but I will continue to speak out about the need for all parties to respect innocent life in the Middle East."

The brief comments to reporters came at the end of a meeting with his cabinet, a session which the president said focused on Iraq and the U.S. economy.

Later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if there had been any response from Israel to the request for information. He said the United States is very concerned about the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza but indicated Washington needs to know more about exactly what happened on the ground.

"We have been told Israel is investigating and we expect an explanation as that investigation is completed," he said.

Mr. McClellan said Israel has called this a tragic event and the Sharon government has expressed deep regret. He said the Bush administration shares that view.

It is a delicate situation for the president, who as recently as Tuesday signaled his strong support for Israel. Mr. Bush told a meeting of pro-Israel Americans that he remains committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state.

At the time, the president said he was troubled by the unfolding violence in Gaza, but stressed peace is still possible.

The Israelis have said they launched the military operation in the Rafah area of Gaza to stop the smuggling of arms through tunnels from Egypt. The Sharon government has defended the destruction of Palestinian homes saying some were over tunnels, while others were being used by militants who attacked Israeli forces.