Sharon: 'Battle Continues'

Hurrying home after a suicide attack killed more than a dozen people in Israel, an enraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Tuesday there was no way to move forward toward Mideast peace with a Palestinian Authority that he called a "terrorist and corrupt entity."

Sharon, in a hastily arranged news conference before leaving Washington, vowed to keep up Israel's campaign to stop Palestinian terror attacks.

"Our work is not done," he said. "The battle continues and will continue until all those who believe that they can make gains through the use of terrorism will cease to exist — cease to exist."

He said that as soon as he returned to Israel, he would meet with his coalition government partners and "we will have to act forcefully. The situation cannot continue."

"It is quite clear this cannot be allowed to carry on," he said of the terrorists attacks. "This is not the kind of incident to which we can fail to react harshly."

Without mentioning Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by name, Sharon said the suicide bombing was "proof of the true intentions of the person leading the Palestinian Authority." Sharon has been resisting entreaties from President Bush to negotiate with Arafat to get the Arab-Israeli peace process on track.

Sharon, who learned of the bombing during an Oval Office meeting with Bush, declared over and over that those who support or fund or perpetrate terrorism are "guilty, guilty." Earlier in his visit to Washington, the Israeli government had presented U.S. officials with a dossier laying out what it said was evidence that Arafat was a sponsor of terrorism against Israel, a charge the Palestinians denied.

"Israel will not surrender to blackmail," Sharon said. "Israel will not surrender to blackmail."

He said the Israeli military offensive against militants in Palestinian towns and villages had made great strides in rooting out the terrorist infrastructure but that the job clearly was not done.

"He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt and kill him first," he said.

Sharon, speaking first in Hebrew and then in English, said he was departing for Israel "with a heavy heart — heavy with grief and heavy with rage." He said it was "the rage of each and every Jew in the world."

The prime minister, who also met with Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional leaders, said he didn't tell U.S. officials what Israel would do in response. But he declared, "Israel is an independent country and we must exercise our right of self-defense."

Implicitly criticizing Arafat, Sharon said Palestinian leaders had given no directives to act against terror.

Barely containing his rage, Sharon recited: "Those who call for millions of martyrs are guilty. Those who constantly incite are guilty. Those who fund terrorism are guilty. Those who launch terrorism are guilty. Guilty." He slammed his fist on the podium for emphasis.

Sharon also said that he would continue to push for a regional peace conference. He said that the European Union and Russia should attend and that he would call on both to "exercise pressure of the Palestinian authority and put the condition that any further financial contributions will be dependent on reforms actually being carried out."

Sharon said Bush had asked him "to express his dismay of the terrible massacre of innocent people — children, women and youth on a night out whose only sin was being Jewish, Israeli."

Al Manar TV in Lebanon said it had received a claim of responsibility from the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Sharon's hurried departure was a familiar scenario. Just last December, Sharon cut short a Washington visit after suicide attacks in Jerusalem and the port city of Haifa, as well as a Gaza shooting, killed 26 people — many of them teen-agers — and injured nearly 200.

Tuesday's violence transformed the meeting between Bush and Sharon from a pep talk on tentative peace moves into an hourlong emergency session that increased pressure on Arafat to prove he could end Palestinian attacks.

Asked if Arafat had the ability to stop the terrorists, Sharon said, "I believe that he's got the power to do that. And you know, in one place, at least in Gaza, where all his forces were left intact and terror is going on there, I would say daily."