Bush administration condemns Israeli’s assassination, urges Arafat to find killers
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration condemned the assassination Wednesday of an Israeli cabinet minister and called on Yasser Arafat to find and prosecute those responsible.
The administration also renewed a warning that the United States reserves the option of using force against supporters of terrorism.
Arafat’s Palestinian Authority ”must immediately find and bring to justice those who committed this murder, as well as those who would do harm to efforts to restore an atmosphere of calm and security for Israelis and Palestinians,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of Tourism Minister Rehavam Keevi, 75, in Jerusalem. It was the first assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister.
The State Department on Oct. 5 again listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization. The department’s annual report in April said Syria provided safe haven and support to the group and that its headquarters was in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The group operates or is located in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, on the West Bank and in Gaza, the report said.
”We will continue to wage our campaign against terrorism globally,” said Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman.
”We’re focused on this, using all the tools at our disposal, be they financial and economic, information and intelligence sharing, police and law enforcement action, as well as military action when that’s appropriate,” Reeker said.
President Bush condemned the assassination ”in the strongest terms” and called it a ”despicable act,” Fleischer said.
Fleischer said that ”words are not enough” and the Palestinian Authority must take ”vigorous action against terrorists.”
On Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East said there were terrorist movements in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., contended these countries’ lack of democracy ”seems to have created fertile ground for the development of terrorist movements.”
Reeker urged Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to ”move now to find and arrest all those responsible for this act, as well as to continue arrests of other known terrorists.”
Despite the incident, Israel made clear it intends to explore Mideast peacemaking possibilities with the administration.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a longtime supporter of territorial concessions to the Palestinian Authority, is to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday in Washington, diplomatic sources said.
The talks will be held against the backdrop of an acceleration in U.S. diplomacy in the region. After months of low-key consultations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the administration is staking out a higher profile.
Bush has publicly endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, and U.S. proposals for Israel to yield land to the Palestinian Authority are being prepared.
An announcement of the U.S. position is expected in mid-November during a special session of the U.N. General Assembly.
Powell, on a trip to South Asia and China, said the situation is serious. He said he had talked to German Foreign Joschka Fischer and planned to call other foreign leaders.
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