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US Notes Israel's Right to Self-Defense - 2001-12-03

The White House is avoiding direct criticism of the Israeli retaliatory strikes on Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, officials are stepping up pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to crack down on militant groups, and find those responsible for the weekend suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa.

The White House is keeping to a very tight script as Israel avenges the weekend suicide bombings.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer is avoiding any direct criticism of the Israeli action. Under intense questioning from reporters, he put the focus on the need for strong action by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The White House Spokesman says President Bush believes Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to find the people behind the suicide bombings and bring them to justice. "The President thinks that this is the chance now for Yasser Arafat to demonstrate real leadership that is lasting, that is enduring, that puts people responsible for this away and does so in such a way that they cannot get out again and commit more terror," he said. "The President thinks it is very important that the Palestinian jails not only have bars on the front, but no longer have revolving doors at the back."

At a time when the United States is waging its own war against terrorism, the Bush administration is responding somewhat differently to this new round of bloodshed in the Middle East. Usually, the White House urges restraint, and calls on all sides to stop the cycle of violence. Not now.

Instead, Ari Fleischer speaks of Israel's security concerns and the lack of action so far by the Palestinian leadership. "The President understands that Israel has a right to defend herself," said Ari Fleischer. "The President also urges all parties to be cognizant of the fact that they have to consider the consequences of whatever actions they take today for how it impacts events tomorrow."

The weekend suicide bombings began Saturday while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was in the midst of a five-day visit to the United States. He pushed up his planned Monday meeting with President Bush to Sunday so he could rush back home.

They met for about an hour. Ari Fleischer said Ariel Sharon never asked President Bush if the United States would approve of retaliatory military action. "The United States did not give anybody a green light because nobody asked for a green light," he said.

Mr. Fleischer spoke of the complicated, fluid situation in the region. He said things are difficult right now, but that will not stop President Bush from seeking peace. The White House Spokesman noted that a Presidential envoy remains in the region and is in contact with Israeli and Palestinian officials.