WASHINGTON – The White House said Sunday that Israel's assault on Yasser Arafat's compound did not help the Middle East peace process and that Palestinian hopes for an independent state are greatly harmed by homicide attacks.
"Israel's actions in and around the [Arafat compound] are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reforms," White House spokeswoman Jeanne Mamo said on the third day of the Israeli operation at Arafat's once-sprawling headquarters, where the sole building left standing was the one housing Arafat.
"We urge Israel to continue considering the consequences of its actions on progress" toward reaching goals President Bush has set: Palestinian elections next year, Arafat's removal as leader of the Palestinians and creation of a Palestinian state within three years to exist peacefully with Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said his country remains committed to Bush's ideas but insisted: "The Palestinian fate is in the hands of the Palestinians."
"We are still for peace," Peres said. "We have accepted the vision of President Bush. We didn't change our mind."
Mamo added that "it is also important for Palestinians to understand that terrorist violence does grave damage to Palestinian aspirations for a Palestinian state."
"We condemn in the strongest possible the terrorist attacks that occurred in Israel last week," Mamo said.
A homicide bombing Wednesday killed an Israeli policeman, ending a relative lull that lasted six weeks and raised hopes that two years of violence might be winding down. Five Israelis and a Scottish seminary student were killed in a Thursday homicide bombing on a Tel Aviv bus, claimed by the Islamic militant Hamas group.
A top Arafat aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said in a broadcast he feared "a real massacre" if the standoff at the compound should erupt into a confrontation. "We are in need of an immediate American intervention to stop this, because if this happens, this will reflect negatively on us and on Israelis and on the Americans themselves," he said.
Mamo said the White House saw progress in recent months toward Bush's goals. But renewed Israel-Palestinian violence complicates the administration's effort to rally world opinion for the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The White House's words of warning to Israel were also notable because during other recent waves of violence, the Bush administration has generally criticized Palestinian homicide attacks far more sharply than Israeli retaliations.
The Israeli assault on Arafat's compound left him surrounded, and some U.S. officials worried that it could allow him to cast himself as a victim and a hero.
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said such standoffs tend to raise Arafat's profile.
"It makes it harder for the end result that we're looking for, which is to marginalize him by bringing Palestinians into the governance that are willing to make peace, which Arafat's not," Biden, D-Del., said in a televised interview.
Four Palestinian demonstrators were killed by army fire in Gaza and the West Bank on Sunday, and a Palestinian teenager was killed in Nablus, residents said.
Israel got a firm expression of support from Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
"Suicide bombing is a weapon that is pretty hard to deter," he said. "If someone has a better idea than what the Israelis are doing, I'm sure [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon would listen to it, but right now, I would find it hard to criticize them, although I would caution for both sides to stop the killing."
The White House would not respond publicly Sunday to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's plea that Bush intervene immediately to stop the Israeli operation. Bush ignored a reporter's question about the Israeli assault as he returned to the White House on Sunday from Camp David.