WASHINGTON – Troubled by violence in the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday canceled a trip to Latin America so he could monitor the situation after a suicide bombing killed 17 Israelis.
Powell was to depart Sunday for Costa Rica and join leaders from 33 other hemispheric countries to discuss ways of strengthening democracy.
"Due to developments in the Middle East, the secretary thought it was necessary he remain in Washington," a State Department official said.
After Friday night's bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel, President Bush demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemn "the heinous terrorist attack" on a crowded beachfront and call for an immediate cease-fire.
"There is no justification for senseless attacks against innocent civilians," Bush said in a statement.
Arafat said Saturday he was ready to work for an "immediate and unconditional cease-fire," but did not say what steps he was prepared to take.
The Israeli Cabinet, in a rare emergency session on the Jewish Sabbath, called off its self-declared policy of restraint and said it held Arafat directly responsible for the blast, which also wounded 90 people, and other recent attacks.
The bombing came a week after the United States restarted efforts to bring the two sides together again.
Powell's absence from the two-day annual meeting of Organization of American States foreign ministers will not break tradition. Secretaries of state often pass up these meetings. Powell's initial planned presence in was consistent with Bush's focus on hemispheric issues.