Published June 08, 2003
WASHINGTON – Bush officials said recent attacks on Israelis won't hamper the Mideast peace process.
In reference to Sunday's attacks that left four Israeli soldiers dead, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said that the peace process would live on and the U.S. would continue to back Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search).
"What we have to do now is make sure we don't let this tragic incident derail" the summit's gains, Powell said on Fox News Sunday.
The administration and Israel have in the past blamed such attacks on the longtime Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, especially those that came when prospects for peace seemed brighter.
Powell stopped short of faulting anybody except the groups that took credit for the killings. Arafat "is still the president of the Palestinian Authority. I recognize that," Powell told Fox News Sunday.
But, he said, "Yasser Arafat has to play a more positive role than he has played in last few days, more than that over the last couple of years."
Four Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday in an attack on the Gaza Strip (search). Three extremist Palestinian groups claimed responsibility.
It was the first major attack on Israelis since Bush's Mideast summit in Jordan last week, where leaders discussed the U.S.-backed road map to peace.
Powell said he is certain Abbas is committed to peace.
"Now we have to give him the capacity and capability" to resist the anti-Israeli attackers. The United States is ready to provide him the help to do that, Powell said, and is asking others to do the same thing.
At the summit, both the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to take tentative steps along the peace blueprint to Palestinian statehood by 2005. Abbas pledged to halt attacks on Israelis; Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) agreed to dismantle unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.
Powell made clear Sunday that he expects Sharon to do as he promised and begin taking down settlements despite the latest attack.
"That was the commitment they made, and I think Mr. Sharon will meet that commitment," Powell said on a cable news channel. "I haven't spoken to him ... since this tragic incident overnight, but I hope we do not allow acts of terror to stop us from what both sides know they have to do to move forward."
The leader of the National Security Council said the White House was not surprised at the new violence.
"We never expected that the rejectionists would find this a welcome development," said Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser.
"But it is now time for all of those who stand for peace and who say that they stand for peace to reject the rejectionists," she told NBC's Meet the Press.
She said the international community needs to support Abbas in his efforts to try to rein in militants who want to scuttle the peace plan.
"There are going to be those who try and make this stillborn, but the parties need to stay on track," Rice said.
When asked if Abbas will be able to stop the violence, Rice said only that he had a tough job.
"There is no doubt that the new Palestinian leadership has a difficult road ahead," Rice said. "But this is the best chance that the Palestinian people have had for statehood and for an enduring peace for a very long time."
Referring to the road map discussed at the summit, Rice said Bush "made very clear that he expected that compliance would be on both sides and that he was prepared to say who was complying and who was not."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.