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Bush Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Israel - 2002-04-04

President Bush is calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian-controlled areas. Mr. Bush is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week to push for an end to the fighting.

President Bush says he is sending Secretary Powell to the region because the "situation is deteriorating dramatically." He says Israel must stop settlements in occupied territory, and pull its troops out of Palestinian-ruled areas.

"America recognizes Israel's right to defend itself from terror," said Mr. Bush. "Yet to lay the foundations of future peace, I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, and to begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied."

A senior administration official says the president expects Israel to withdraw its troops "as soon as possible."

As Israel steps back, President Bush says, responsible Palestinian leaders and Israel's Arab neighbors must step forward and show they are serious about peace.

He says all nations must help deliver a clear message to terrorists: that blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, Mr. Bush says, suicide bombers could blow-up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state.

"They are not martyrs," stressed Mr. Bush. "They are murderers. And they undermine the cause of the Palestinian people. Those governments, like Iraq, that reward parents for the sacrifice of their children, are guilty of soliciting murder of the worst kind."

President Bush also warned Iran and Syria to "stay out" of the conflict, saying Iranian weapons shipments are helping fuel the violence.

Mr. Bush again called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to do more to stop attacks against Israeli civilians, saying he is largely to blame for Israel's actions against him to round-up suspected terrorists because he failed to follow through on commitments made during peace talks in Oslo and elsewhere.

"The chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists," said Mr. Bush. "At Oslo, and elsewhere, Chairman Arafat renounced terror as an instrument of his cause, and he agreed to control it. He has not done so. The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He has missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he is supposed to lead."

President Bush emphasized this could be a hopeful moment in the Middle East, with a Saudi peace plan that would trade Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist for the return of land Israel occupied during the 1967 war.

He says he is sending Secretary Powell to the region to seize this opportunity, before the conflict widens. "The outlines of a just settlement are clear: two states - Israel and Palestine - living side-by-side in peace and security," Mr. Bush went on to say. "This can be a time for hope, but it calls for leadership, not for terror."

The president has been under increasing pressure at home and abroad to do more in the Middle East. His decision to send Secretary Powell to the region comes a day before Mr. Bush meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss Israeli-Palestinian violence.

President Bush spoke with Mr. Blair by telephone Thursday. He also called Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is the current president of the European Union.

A senior administration official says Secretary Powell spoke by telephone Thursday with Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are expected to be on the secretary's schedule next week.

The senior administration official says Secretary Powell also tried to call Mr. Arafat ahead of the president' speech, but did not get through. Officials say the secretary will continue to try and speak with the Palestinian leader before his trip.