WASHINGTON – President Bush, in a strongly worded response to Friday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemn "the heinous terrorist attack" and call for an immediate cease-fire.
"There is no justification for senseless attacks against innocent civilians," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.
The one-paragraph statement did not mention Israel's role in nine months of Middle East bloodshed and stopped just short of pointing blame directly at Arafat for Friday's bombing.
Bush said the bombing, which killed more than a dozen people, illustrates the need for an immediate, unconditional cessation of violence.
"I call upon chairman Arafat to condemn this act and to call for an immediate cease-fire," he said. "My deepest condolences and those of the American people go out to the victims and their families."
The Bush administration has focused its Mideast diplomacy on trying to end the violence. Critics have said the administration has done too little to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
A report by a fact-finding commission headed by former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell was endorsed. It called for a cease-fire, criticized Palestinian leaders for doing too little to stop the violence and said Israel should freeze construction at settlements.
Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded "an unconditional cessation of violence" in the Middle East and urged all world leaders to support the U.S. appeal.
Deploring the rising bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians, Powell said terrorist groups may be beyond control. But he said: "What we need now, more than anything else, is a cessation of violence by all."
Powell said leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere should speak out against violence more directly and "do everything they can to control passions" in the troubled region.
He has talked on the telephone several times with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Earlier, when Israel struck back with force, Powell criticized the retaliation as excessive.
With evident distress, Powell said May 18, "All of our lives have been made more difficult by this situation."
Admitting he was at a loss for a guaranteed formula to stop the bloodletting, Powell said "we continue to look for solutions" and expressed the wish for "a new kind of activity that could be helpful."
Continuing, in a tone of frustration, Powell said: "At the moment, we are trapped in this cycle of violence, and if there was any solution that I could come up with, any conference or meeting that could be held right away that might move this in such a direction, I would leap at it."
On Friday, a leading reform rabbi suggested that Israel freeze all settlement construction. "It is politically wise and morally right," Rabbi Eric Yoffie said. "At this moment, deepening or extending settlements simply does not serve Israel's interest."
Yoffie is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a group of synagogues that tend to be liberal in interpreting Jewish law and in world politics.
He spoke in Cleveland to the 225 members of the union's board hours after the bombing in Israel.
Yoffie, in a brief telephone interview, said, "The blast increases the revulsion that Israeli Jews and all civilized people feel about Mr. Arafat's actions."
"How do you advance the cause of peace when you target children and young people for death?" the New York rabbi asked.
In the prepared speech, he said "we sit heartbroken before the killing and terror."
An advocate of Israel making territorial concessions, Yoffie said he realized that when Arafat turned down such proposals by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, "The voices of reason and moderation on which we had counted did not appear."
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan said U.S.-sponsored security talks between Israel and the Palestinians have accomplished little.
Annan, in Washington for a speech on the AIDS epidemic and a meeting with Powell, urged Arafat to issue a cease-fire order.