The Bush administration says it had no advance knowledge of Israel's killing of the leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza and did not endorse the attack.
Appearing on the U.S. television program ABC's This Week, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was asked if the United States gave Israel a "green light" for Saturday's Israeli missile attack that killed Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi. "President Bush did no such thing. The president does not discuss Israeli operations with the Prime Minister. We have said repeatedly to the Israelis that, while we understand and support Israel's right to defend itself, it is extremely important that Israel take into consideration the consequences of anything that it does," she said.
Earlier, a statement from the White House urged all parties in the Middle East peace process to "exercise maximum restraint" and to focus on steps that can be taken to make Israel's withdrawal from Gaza a success.
Ms. Rice said that the timing of actions is critical, and that Abdel Aziz Rantisi's killing may not have come at an opportune moment, just days after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington. "Certainly, given that we had just talked about trying to get the Roadmap (peace plan) underway in the Middle East, trying to get the Gaza disengagement plan underway, then the timing is not helpful. But we understand that the Israelis have to defend themselves," she said.
The national security advisor added that the Israeli withdrawal plan should be given a chance to work. "You have an Israeli prime minister who says, 'I am going to unilaterally leave the Gaza, unilaterally take away settlements.' And not just any Israeli prime minister, but Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlements, says, 'Now I am going to disengage. I am going to do what everyone has said Israel should do: give up settlements, give up military positions.' This is a tremendous opportunity. And it is time for people to focus on that, and what the Palestinians can do with that new opportunity - rather than, frankly, remaining stuck in the past," she said.
Ms. Rice rejected any suggestion that the Bush Administration's endorsement of Mr. Sharon's withdrawal plan, which would remove some Israeli settlements but retain others, means that the United States has taken sides against the Palestinians. She reminded viewers that President Bush was the first U.S. leader to unequivocally declare that Palestinians deserve a sovereign state of their own.