The Bush administration is formally designating the radical Palestinian faction - the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - as a foreign terrorist organization. The announcement came just hours after the group, an off-shoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for Thursday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
Officials here say it is unclear whether the Al-Aqsa faction carries out its attacks with the approval or knowledge of Mr. Arafat or other top leaders of Fatah.
But the decision by Secretary of State Powell to add the group to the U.S. terrorist list, communicated to Congressional leaders earlier this week, does reflect growing administration concern about such a possibility.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said that following Thursday's suicide attack, Mr. Powell telephoned Mr. Arafat to demand action against the extremists. "The secretary called upon Chairman Arafat to condemn today's acts publicly and personally in the strongest manner, in English and in Arabic. The secretary told Chairman Arafat he must punish the leaders of organizations responsible for recent attacks, making sure those responsible are brought to justice. Chairman Arafat must speak out personally and tell the Palestinian people that these terrorist actions destroy his leadership and dash the dreams of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state," Mr. Reeker said.
A State Department official said Mr. Powell's language with the Palestinian leader was "extremely tough and firm" and reflected U.S. anger over the latest bombing, and the fact that it scuttled Israeli-Palestinian security talks painstakingly arranged by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni.
Mr. Reeker said the secretary called for a 100 percent Palestinian effort to support the Zinni mission and implement the cease-fire plan of CIA Director George Tenet, and that this should include "unambiguous" orders to Palestinian security forces to prevent terror attacks and enforce a truce.
The terrorist designation for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades will make it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide money or other support to the group, deny U.S. visas to its members or representatives, and require American financial institutions to block any assets the group may have in the United States.
There has been broad support for the move against the Al-Aqsa group in the U.S. Congress, where members have also been pressing the administration to take similar action against the Tanzim militia, another group affiliated with Fatah.
Nearly 30 other groups are on the foreign terrorist list. Other Palestinian groups listed are Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.