The United States condemned as "a reprehensible and heinous act of terror" an attack by Palestinian gunmen on Israelis walking home from a Sabbath worship service.

The State Department said Saturday the ambush occurred two days after a visiting U.S. official, in talks with Palestinian leaders in Jericho, pressed the need "to end immediately the terror and violence that has so undermined Palestinian national aspirations."

Killed in Friday's attack in Hebron on the West Bank were 12 Israelis, mostly security forces. Fourteen other Israelis were wounded as worshippers headed to their settlement from Sabbath prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

"We condemn in the strongest terms this reprehensible and heinous act of terrorism," State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said. "We extend our deepest condolences to the innocent victims of violence and urge both sides to do all they can to end this ongoing tragedy."

At the White House, spokesman Adam Levine said: "The president condemns all acts of violence. This is a brutal act of terror, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims and their families."

Jones said David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East, met Wednesday with Palestinian leaders, including Cabinet member Saeb Erekat, their chief negotiator. U.S. officials no longer deal with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority.

At Satterfield's meeting, Jones said, he underscored that the Palestinians "do all they can to end immediately the terror and violence that has so undermined Palestinian national aspirations and work to restore active security contacts to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terror and violence."

President Bush, the first U.S. president to endorse Palestinian statehood, blames Arafat for doing too little to stop attacks on Israelis.

As for Israel, Jones said the United States recognizes its "need to take legitimate anti-terrorist action." But, he added, "We continue to urge the Israelis to keep in mind the consequences of their actions and to take immediate steps to prevent further civilian casualties in their operations."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV 11-16-02 1202EST