Bush Spokesman Slams Sharon Comments

The White House had strong words for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Friday, calling his criticism of Bush administration policies toward the Middle East "unacceptable."

The Israeli leader had accused the Bush administration of appeasing Palestinians in order to bolster Arab support for the counterterrorism effort.

"Israel has no stronger friend and ally in the world than the United States," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "President Bush is an especially close friend of Israel. The United States has been working for months to press the parties to end the violence and return to a political dialogue. The United States will continue to press both Israel and the Palestinians to move forward."

In a Tel Aviv news conference Thursday, Sharon vowed that "Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism." He compares the Bush administration's policies toward the Mideast to the actions of European democracies on the eve of World War II, when those nations submitted to Adolf Hitler's demands to take over Czechoslovakia.

"Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," Sharon said.

Fleischer responded: "The prime minister's comments are unacceptable."

However, he later added, "The American policy toward peace in the Middle East is just as strongly committed to the peace process and is identical to the policies established prior to Sept. 11 as it is today."

Fleischer said the president's displeasure with Sharon's comments was communicated to Israel through officials in the U.S. Embassy in Israel, the National Security Council and the State Department.

He said the White House especially took issue with Sharon's contention that the United States was acting at Israel's expense. "The United States is not doing anything to try to appease the Arabs at Israel's expense," Fleischer said.

Hours after Sharon spoke, Israeli troops backed by tanks seized two Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron, killing five Palestinians and virtually solidifying the end of a cease-fire both sides agreed to last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.