WASHINGTON – President Bush on Sunday condemned suicide bomber attacks in Israel as "acts of murder" and pointedly urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other Arab leaders to bring those responsible to justice.
"This is a moment where the advocates for peace in the Middle East must rise up and fight terror," Bush said as he returned to the White House for an emergency meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to find those who murdered innocent Israelis and bring them to justice," the president said.
Bush did not urge restraint by Israel in responding as the administration has in the past.
Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested the attacks were meant to undermine Arafat's authority.
"Not only was this a terrible attack against innocent Israelis, a terrible act of terror, it was also an attack against him, it was an attack against his authority, it was an attack against Palestinian leadership, and it was an attack that he could not overlook," Powell said on CNN's Late Edition.
The Israeli Cabinet considered its response and Arafat called an emergency meeting of his leadership. Powell renewed his call for both sides to halt the violence.
"The deadline ought to be right now. Stop. Now," he said on CBS's Face the Nation. Arafat "can't control every single Palestinian zealot or somebody who wishes to commit suicide, but he has to exercise more of the control that we believe he has," Powell said.
Powell did not explicitly call on the Israelis to avoid responding with military action. "We're going to tell the prime minister, who has been freely elected by his people to defend his nation what he — I don't know what he's going to do, and I don't know that he will share it with us," Powell said. "We will get his assessment and we will discuss the whole situation with him."
The president telephoned Sharon, who was in New York City at the time, to express his condolences and advanced their White House meeting from Monday so Sharon could return quickly to Israel.
Arafat came under criticism from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for his leadership.
"He is not a particularly strong leader," Rumsfeld said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I don't know that he has good control over the Palestinian situation. He has not ever delivered anything for the Palestinian people. ... His record is not particularly impressive."
The latest escalation of bloodshed began Saturday when a pair of suicide bombers detonated nail-studded explosives in a downtown Jerusalem pedestrian mall crowded with young weekend revelers. The blasts killed the assailants and at least 10 bystanders and wounded an estimated 150 people, authorities said.
Just hours later on Sunday the wave of terror attacks continued when a bomb exploded on a bus in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, killing 15 more people.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for all of the attacks.
Powell and a special U.S. in the Mideast quickly relayed Bush's message of condemnation directly to Arafat.
From Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said "the real pressure now has to be on Mr. Arafat now to deliver" on finding those responsible and bringing them to justice.
He said on NBC that "whatever influence, whatever power, whatever resources we have to do that has to be done and I think it has to be done immediately."