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Bush Calls for Tough Stand Against Hamas - 2003-06-15

U.S. President George W. Bush says the world must take a strong stand against the Palestinian militant group Hamas to keep Hamas from killing the Middle East peace process.

The president says those who love freedom and peace must deal harshly with Hamas. "My assessment is that there are people that want peace to go forward. And there are people who do not," he said. "And for those of us who want peace to go forward, we must combine our effort so to prevent people like Hamas from sabotaging peace."

Mr. Bush spoke to reporters as he left church services near his parents' seaside home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He was asked if Israel was justified in its recent attacks on members of Hamas.

The president did not answer directly, speaking about the need for all countries to keep the peace process moving forward, and to crackdown on those who greet the hope of peace with violence.

He said his ultimate goal remains the same as envisioned in the so-called "Road Map" for Peace, the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. He said the violence that followed his recent three-way summit in Jordan with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proves it will not be easy.

"It is going to be a tough road," he said. "But I am determined to continue to lend the weight of this government to advance peace."

Mr. Bush spoke as prominent members of Congress offered their views on the Middle East peace process on American television.

Appearing on the Fox News Sunday program, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar said the Palestinian Authority does not have a sufficient security force to deal with Hamas. He said some sort of international military support might become necessary to end the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence and root out terrorism in the region. "We are going to have to think through how do we do this collectively," he said.

The Indiana Republican also said the peace process will not succeed until Yasser Arafat is marginalized as a Palestinian leader. "The leadership really has to be clearly centralized with the prime minister so he is credible as a negotiator down many many steps in the days and years ahead," he said.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Congresswoman Jane Harmon, said when Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with Arab leaders in the region in the days ahead he should press them to help remove Yasser Arafat from power. "I think we can urge the Arab countries to do that and the Abbas administration can not succeed until Arafat is totally sidelined," she said on Fox News Sunday.

Congresswoman Harman said the best outcome would be for Yasser Arafat to go into exile.