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White House Aware Israeli Withdrawal May Take Time


The Israeli military operation continues in the occupied territories despite President Bush's call for a withdrawal from Palestinian areas. White House officials are speaking carefully and acknowledging it's not likely to happen overnight.

On Thursday, President Bush spoke out in strong terms, urging Israel to withdraw and calling on the Palestinians to halt terrorism. But the next day found Israeli forces still on the move in the occupied territories. And the White House found itself in a somewhat uncomfortable situation.

There was no quick criticism of Israel from White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. He told reporters covering the president's trip to his Texas ranch that "major events don't necessarily happen overnight."

He said it may take the Israelis some time to fully come to terms with the president's expectations. The White House spokesman said simply that President Bush expects results and he wants to see them as soon as possible.

Mr. Fleischer said the Israelis clearly got that message. And he said Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni underscored the same points during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Arafat is not expected to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell during his visit to the region next week. When asked about the prospects for such a meeting, Ari Fleischer said only that Secretary Powell will meet with Mideast leaders who have played and will continue to play a constructive role.

Meanwhile, senior administration officials have provided details of the evolution of the president's decision to get more directly involved in efforts to end the Mideast crisis and send Colin Powell to the region.

One official, who spoke on the condition he would not be identified, said the turning point came last Wednesday when a suicide bomber attacked Israelis observing the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The official said it became clear almost immediately that a new initiative was needed to stop the violence. He said top aides to the president spent several days working on diplomatic details and the precise wording of an announcement. The official said Mr. Bush felt it was important to "seize the moment," adding the administration believes the president's words created "a new dynamic."