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Bush Sees Opportunity for Peace in Gaza Withdrawal

President Bush says now that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, Palestinian leaders should seize the opportunity to show they are determined to end violence and bring peace to the region.

President Bush calls the withdrawal a bold step, and says the next move is up to the Palestinians.

"And so now is an opportunity. And the opportunity rests with the Palestinian people to show they can govern themselves in a peaceful way," said Mr. Bush.

The president says there should be only one Palestinian security force, a reference to demands Palestinian leaders disarm militant groups such as Hamas. He says the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate its commitment to peace and to building the Palestinian economy.

In a speech to a group of Jewish members of his Republican Party, Mr. Bush also called once again on Arab countries to help the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas.

"They need to step in and help the peaceful democratic forces within Gaza to thwart those whose stated objective is the destruction of Israel," added Mr. Bush.

President Bush said these are historic, challenging times, adding he is hopeful the Palestinians can succeed and the peace process can move forward. He said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a bold decision, and stressed the United States remains firmly committed to defending the security and the well being of Israel.

Mr. Bush met with the prime minister last week on the sidelines of a U.N. summit in New York. On Thursday, the president will continue his discussions on the situation in the Middle East when he meets at the White House with Jordan's King Abdullah.