The United States has condemned Tuesday's shooting spree by a Palestinian gunman in Jerusalem and again demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shut down the radical factions responsible for acts of terror against Israelis.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States "absolutely condemns" the latest act of anti-Israeli violence and says there can be no justification for an attack targeting innocent people.
At a briefing, Mr. Boucher said the United States is pressing Mr. Arafat to take immediate action against extremists in areas under the Palestinian Authority's control. "Once again," he said, "we call upon Chairman Arafat to take immediate and effective steps to end attacks such as these and bring those responsible to justice. Once again, the point is that he needs to dismantle the organizations that do these things. It's not a matter of whether they decide they will or they won't carry out attacks. It's making sure that they can't."
A senior official who spoke to reporters here said the United States believes Mr. Arafat retains the ability to act effectively against extremist elements, despite the Israeli military presence near his headquarters in Ramallah that has made him a virtual prisoner in the West Bank town.
He reiterated, at the same time, the U.S. view that Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas are "counter-productive" and welcomed the pull-back of Israeli forces from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, which had been occupied following a terrorist attack in the Israeli coastal town of Hadera late last week.
The attacks in Hadera and Jerusalem are further setbacks to U.S. efforts to get an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and Mr. Boucher said he had no word on when U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni who is home for consultations would return to the region.
Senior administration officials including Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, met Tuesday with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who sought unsuccessfully to conclude a peace accord with Mr. Arafat in the final days of the Clinton administration.
In a talk with reporters, Mr. Barak said he now believes the Palestinian leader is incapable of delivering peace. Yet he advised his successor, Ariel Sharon, against shutting down the Palestinian Authority and said Israelis would embrace a Palestinian leader who is serious about peace.
Mr. Barak said, "The moment a leader the caliber of a Sadat or a King Hussein will emerge on the other side, I know that you'll see an immediate drift within the Israeli public that will make it clear that we are ready to make tough decisions in order to put an end to the conflict."
Mr. Barak praised the Bush administration for what he termed its "highly responsible and cautious" approach to Chairman Arafat, and said Israeli military moves against the Palestinians in recent days are in self defense and fully justified by Palestinian behavior.