WASHINGTON – President Bush branded a bombing in Israel that killed 19 people Saturday as despicable, saying the attack was a reminder of the Palestinians' need to combat terrorism.
"I condemn unequivocally the vicious act of terrorism committed today in Haifa (search)," Bush said in a written statement. "This murderous action, aimed at families gathered to enjoy a Sabbath lunch, killed and injured dozens of men, women, and children."
He added, "This despicable attack underscores once again the responsibility of Palestinian authorities to fight terror, which remains the foremost obstacle to achieving the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security."
Bush said the Palestinian leadership "must dedicate itself to dismantling the infrastructure of terror and preventing the kind of murderous actions that we witnessed today."
The president said nothing about how Israel should retaliate. In the past, Bush has often urged Israel to consider the implications its actions will have on peace efforts.
The attack at a beach-front restaurant in Haifa appeared to heighten the possibility that Israel will act against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search), perhaps by expelling him. The United States opposes ousting Arafat, and Israel's security chiefs are divided on the issue.
Israeli helicopters fired two missiles at a small house near the beach in Gaza City (search) early Sunday, and helicopters also fired missiles in a Gaza refugee camp, witnesses said.
The house belonged to the Kanita family, one of Gaza's largest, but it was empty at the time of the attack. The Kanita family has members in all the main Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinians said.
Bush was also silent on the future of the U.S.-backed plan for the region that Bush has endorsed as the path to peace. The plan, designed to two states, Israel and independent Palestine, existing as neighbors in peace, has suffered a series of setbacks since Bush went to the Mideast for summits in May and June.
In Saturday's attack, a Palestinian woman blew herself up in a crowded restaurant, killing 19 people, including three children. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the past three years and led to fresh calls for the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"There can be no excuse for the violence and terrorist attacks the Israeli people have been forced to endure," State Department spokesman Joanne Moore said.
"This clearly illustrates why the Palestinian Authority must act now to dismantle terrorist capacity and networks that perpetrate such attacks and prevent any future attacks," she said.
The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Sabbath bombing, according to Israeli media.
A senior U.S. official said last week that Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had told Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) that Israel would consult with the United States before acting against Arafat. By midday Saturday, the same official said, Israel had made no such approaches to Washington.
Moore said Powell telephoned Shalom on Saturday to express our "strong condemnation and deepest condolences to the victims."