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Bush tells Arafat to 'respond forcefully' to terrorists

A Palestinian officer runs past a building hit by Israeli helicopters at Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.  

(CNN) -- President Bush urged Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat Tuesday to "respond forcefully" to last weekend's terrorist attacks in Israel by apprehending those responsible.

"It is incumbent upon Mr. Arafat now to respond forcefully to root out those who killed. It's incumbent upon other friends and allies of ours around the world to help bring those terrorists to justice if we want peace in the Middle East, which I do," Bush said during a town hall meeting in Orlando, Florida.

When he was asked how the United States would assist Israel, Bush said, "Israel's got no better friend than the United States, as far as I'm concerned."

"Israel is a democracy. We share a lot of values with Israel. ... I can't think of anything better than to have a dream of peace for Israel," he said.

"But we learned in such a vivid way that there are elements in the Middle East that hate the thought of peace and will be willing to use terror to derail any type of peace process."

Earlier, two Israeli Cobra helicopters fired rockets at a building in Ramallah adjacent to Arafat's headquarters. Palestinian officials said Arafat was in his office, but was not hurt.

Tuesday's strikes were the latest in a series of moves in retaliation for weekend terrorist bombings that killed 25 Israelis.

Israeli army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey said Arafat was not a target of the attacks. "The target is not the man; the target is the apparatuses," Kitrey told CNN.

The Israeli Defense Forces confirmed the strike in Ramallah, as well as strikes on the West Bank town of Salfit, the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza and targets in Gaza city. Palestinian hospital sources said three people were killed. (Full story)

Following more than five hours of closed-door talks, the Israeli Cabinet early Tuesday called Arafat's Palestinian Authority a "terrorist-supporting entity" that must be dealt with as such. (Full story)

"The government determines the lethal and cruel terror attacks over the last weekend shows the lack of inhibition of our enemies and calls for a larger scale activity than has been taken to date against Palestinian terror," the Cabinet said in a statement. (Full statement)

Arafat called on the international community to act. "Before this aggression started, we had succeeded ... many had been arrested," Arafat told CNN Correspondent Rula Amin, adding his most important question was, "Where [is] the international reaction?" (Full story)

Mideast violence
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  •  Palestinian politics
  •  IDF: Arms workshops destroyed in Rafah
  •  Gallery: Palestinian fatalities
  •  Victims of terror
  • Orchestrating a common ground

Late Saturday, two suicide bombers detonated explosives near the crowded Zion Square shopping complex in Jerusalem, killing 10 Israelis and themselves. The explosions wounded about 180 others.

A third blast rocked the area about 10 minutes later from a car bomb that was timed to explode as rescue workers arrived to tend to casualties, police said.

Most of the victims were young people who came out after sundown to celebrate the end of the Sabbath.

About 12 hours later, around midday Sunday, a powerful bomb ripped through a public bus in the Israeli port city of Haifa, police said, killing 16 people, including a suicide bomber, and injuring about 35 others.

Latest developments

• Members of the U.S. House of Representatives plan to offer a strongly worded resolution demanding Bush suspend relations with the Palestinians if they fail to take specific steps to end terrorism, congressional aides told CNN Tuesday. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, and Tom Lantos, D-California, are sponsoring the non-binding measure.

• The Palestinian delegation sent a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council pushing for action in response to the Israeli attacks. The Palestinians huddled with Arab nations and their supporters to discuss what kind of action should be urged on the 15-member Security Council. Whatever they decide, the United States and others are likely to block any Security Council consideration at this delicate time. Earlier this year, the United States vetoed a resolution that would have condemned Israel and dispatched observers to the Middle East.

• The Bush administration Tuesday froze the assets of a Texas-based Islamic foundation that bills itself as a charity, charging that it raises millions of dollars for the Palestinian Hamas -- branded an "extremist" terrorist group by the United States -- which use the funds to train and support suicide bombers. The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development disputed the charges as a "smear campaign" against Muslims. (Full story)

• In a televised address to the nation Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel faced a "war of terrorism." "This war will not be an easy war; this war will not be a short war, but we shall win," Sharon said. (Full story)

• Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat called Sharon's statement a declaration of war. "He is saying, 'War, war, war now, peace later.' I think he is making the mistake of his life," said Erakat, who called on the United States and European leaders to "stop Sharon." (Full story)

• Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN the Israeli actions were a message to Arafat. "In many ways, this is more of a warning than a military operation. It is a warning to Arafat, telling him: 'Take the situation into your own hands and respond to the real problems,'" Peres said during an interview with CNN's "Larry King Live."

Israeli Army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, left, talks with Sharon  

• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the onus of responsibility is on Arafat to "use all of his influence, all of his authority, all of his prestige to bring these terrorist elements under control." Powell made the comments while en route to Bucharest, Romania, to attend the annual meeting of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. Powell said the attacks in Israel challenged Arafat's authority as the leader of the Palestinian people and leader of the Palestinian Authority. "It is a challenge we believe he must respond to," Powell said. (Full story)

• While in Bucharest, Powell will meet with Israeli official Peres to discuss the recent suicide bombings in Israel and U.S. efforts to bring the violence under control.

• Arafat is reportedly seeking an Arab summit over the Israeli strikes. He contacted Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to seek a summit of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.

• Leaders of two key Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, on Monday condemned the region's worsening violence, The Associated Press reported. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned "all acts of violence and mutual retaliation that aim to blow up peace process efforts and to shed the blood of safe and innocent people," Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif said in comments carried by Egypt's Middle East News Agency.

• The Palestinian observer to the United Nations told CNN Monday that Israel's latest strikes on Palestinian targets prove that it does not want a final settlement to the Middle East conflict. Nasser al-Kidwa spoke after the U.N. General Assembly adopted a series of resolutions by an overwhelming majority criticizing Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and its policies on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The resolutions were not related to the suicide bombings or to the retaliatory strikes by Israel in Gaza. (Full story)


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