KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine – The world must deal harshly with the militant Palestinian group Hamas (search) or others who try to sabotage a U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan (search) with violence, President Bush said Sunday.
Despite renewed attacks and dozens of Israeli and Palestinian deaths since the June 4 summit to get the plan started, Bush said he was confident of eventual peace between the longtime enemies, with a Palestinian state existing in peace beside Israel. Acknowledging obstacles ahead, he pledged his administration's full support toward that goal.
"In the meantime, before that state is established, it is clear that the free world -- those who love freedom and peace -- must deal harshly with Hamas and the killers," Bush said.
Pressed on what help the administration can provide, Bush said the United States is helping Palestinian leaders complete a plan to reconstitute their security forces "in order to make sure the terrorists, the haters of peace, those who can't stand freedom, do not have their way in the Middle East."
Sen. Richard Lugar (search), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News Sunday, the United States must weigh carefully any decision to use American forces, whether alone or with other forces.
"But clearly, if force is required ultimately to rout out terrorism, it is possible that there will be an American participation," the Indiana Republican said.
Bush's remarks on the Middle East, spoken as he left church, were his first on the subject since he arrived in Maine for a long Father's Day weekend with his family.
"I'm confident we can achieve peace," said Bush, who spoke to reporters just minutes after singing the hymn "This Is a Day of New Beginnings." "It's going to be a tough road, but I am determined to continue to lend the weight of this government to advance peace."
At a June 4 summit in Jordan with Israeli and Palestinians leaders, Bush helped initiate a plan, known as the road map, that immediately would end 32 months of violence simultaneously with moves by Israel to stop building Jewish settlements in occupied territories. The goal is the to create a Palestinian state by 2005.
Since the Jordan meeting, renewed violence -- capped by a bus bombing by Hamas and a string of Israeli helicopter raids with rockets aimed at Hamas leaders -- has killed 63 people, mainly civilians on both sides. The difficulty of ending the violence was made evident again Sunday in a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in a Gaza town, in which a Palestinian was killed and seven others wounded.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the United States should send high-level officials, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell or national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, to the Middle East to negotiate an end to the killing.
"I think that this latest road map process is going down the tubes right now," Feinstein said in a televised interview. "I don't think an assistant secretary of state can pull it out."
She was referring to Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf, head of a team of U.S. officials now in the region to supervise implementation of the road map. Wolf was to meet with Israeli officials Monday and on Tuesday with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, Israel Radio said.
Dov Weisglass, a top aide of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was meeting with Rice on Monday in Washington. Powell and other senior representatives of the Quartet of mediators that drew up the road map -- the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union -- plan talks Thursday in Jordan.