WASHINGTON – President Bush branded a pair of homicide bombings in Israel that killed 23 people Sunday as "a despicable act of murder" and said Secretary of State Colin Powell had called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to express America's condolences.
"Today terrorists struck again in Israel, murdering and injuring scores of civilians in Tel Aviv," Bush said in a prepared statement Sunday evening. "I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms."
Bush offered condolences to the government and people of Israel, and especially to the victims' families. "It is a despicable act of murder," Bush said.
"The United States remains determined to continue our efforts toward peace in the Middle East, a goal that the terrorists seek to destroy," Bush said. "All who genuinely seek peace in the region must join in the effort to stop terror."
Two Palestinian homicide bombers set off back-to-back blasts Sunday in a central Tel Aviv area crowded with foreign workers, killing 23 bystanders and wounding more than 100 in the bloodiest attack in six months.
Around the same time Bush issued his statement, Israeli attack helicopters fired at least four missiles at a target in Gaza City, witnesses said. There was no immediate report of casualties. Israel Radio said the missiles hit two Palestinian Authority offices and a building in the market.
It wasn't clear whether Bush knew about the missile attacks when he released his statement, which made no mention of them.
Bush was informed of the homicide bombings on Sunday morning by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, while they were returning to Washington from Texas aboard Air Force One.
The bombings were the first in an Israeli city since November.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted a statement by the Palestinian leadership condemning such terrorist attacks and said "it is essential that the Palestinian leadership immediately take every step in their power to bring about a comprehensive end to all violence and terrorist attacks without exception."