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Bush Criticism of Israel Comes On Eve of Envoy's Mission - 2002-03-14

President Bush says the Israeli crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the biggest such offensive in years, is not helpful to the peace process. At a White House news conference, Mr. Bush urged both sides to show restraint.

The president says it is important to create conditions for peace in the Middle East. He makes clear the first step is for Israel and the Palestinians to halt the violence.

Mr. Bush has condemned terrorist attacks on Israelis on numerous occasions. But this time, he also leveled criticism at the Israeli Defense Force. "Frankly, it is not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in order to create conditions for peace," he said. "I understand trying to defend themselves, and to fight terror, but the recent actions aren't helpful."

His comments came as Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni was preparing to leave Washington for the region in an effort to implement a cease-fire.

Mr. Bush said the retired Marine Corps general has a lot of work to do. But he made clear Anthony Zinni has his full support. "If I didn't think he could make progress, I wouldn't have asked him to go," the President said.

General Zinni is set to arrive in Jerusalem on Thursday. His mission will overlap with Vice President Dick Cheney's first official trip to the region.

The vice president is discussing the war on terrorism, and is sharing U.S. concerns about Iraq's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

During his news conference, Mr. Bush was asked if there is any link between his administration's decision to try to curb Israeli-Palestinian unrest, and its efforts to get other countries to join in pressuring Iraq.

"The need for us to be involved in the Middle East is to help save lives," he said. "We are going to stay involved in the Middle East and at the same time continue to talk about Iraq and Iran and other nations and continue to wage a war on terror, which is exactly what we are doing."

Mr. Bush said terrorists are holding the middle east peace process hostage. And he repeated his concern that some nations seeking weapons of mass destruction like Iraq could give them to terrorists or use them to blackmail the United States and other countries.