WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday condemned a new outbreak in violence in the Middle East and called on the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinians stand fast behind their pledges to press forward with a U.S.-backed peace plan.
"I recognize there're going to be extremists, particularly in the Palestinian territories, that want to blow up peace. I think people are sick of it," Bush told reporters.
Just four days after Bush presided over a three-way Mideast peace summit in Jordan, Palestinian militant groups claimed joint responsibility for an attack Sunday on a northern Gaza checkpoint that left four Israeli soldiers dead.
Bush said he remains optimistic, however, that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) will follow through on their promises to work for the so-called "road map" to Palestinian statehood by 2005.
The peace plan calls for an end to armed attacks against Israel.
But militant groups have defied Abbas' call for an immediate end to violence. Meanwhile, Sharon has been criticized by members of his own right-wing Likud (search) party for conceding too much in agreeing to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.
"Yes, I understand there's going to be a lot of work to do, but I'm prepared to lead," Bush said. He spoke to reporters after giving his Cabinet a briefing on his seven-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.
"The average Palestinian must understand that their lives will improve with the vision of Prime Minister Abbas. And the Arab neighborhood understands that violence will lead to nothing except misery and the lack of hope," Bush said.
"And so I'm optimistic that responsible leaders have now got the message that we must combine to work to fight off the terror attacks so that a peaceful Palestinian state can emerge."
Abbas was struggling to make good on the peace plan's demand for reining in anti-Israeli violence. Abbas said Monday he would not use force against militant groups under any circumstances, despite their stated determination to derail the peace plan with attacks on Israelis, including two weekend shootings that killed five soldiers.
He suggested using force could result in civil war.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops began dismantling an uninhabited West Bank settlement outpost Monday, taking a first step toward meeting part of Israel's obligations under the U.S.-backed peace plan.