Bush urges Israel to leave Palestinian areas
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to quell rising tensions in the Middle East, President Bush on Tuesday urged Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
The president relayed the message in a 25-minute meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at the White House.
"I did express our concern about troops in Palestinian territory, and I would hope Israelis would move their troops as quickly as possible," Bush said Tuesday afternoon.
The president said he expressed his condolences to Peres over last week's assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze'evi. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the killing.
Israeli forces deployed in and around six autonomous Palestinian cities in the West Bank after the assassination.
Bush also said he told Peres the United States is pressing Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat "to do everything he can to bring the killer to justice."
"It is very important that he arrest the person who did this or those who did this act, and continue to arrest those who would disrupt and harm Israeli citizens," Bush said. "(Arafat) must show the resolve necessary to bring peace to the region."
An administration official said the president sent a letter to Arafat on Monday, relaying that message.
After the meeting with Bush, Peres said Israel did not intend to stay in the Palestinian areas and would withdraw its forces if the Palestinians arrest and extradite those responsible for last week's assassination of Ze'evi.
"We feel that we can answer the expectation of the president," Peres told reporters. "What we are trying to do is impress the Palestinian people with the need to go from the world of rhetoric to the world of action."
Peres, sounding a note of optimism, said, "The crisis today looks very serious, maybe the solution is very near as well. We want to lower the flames of tension and fire in the Middle East. We want to do whatever we can so that the United States can build a coalition of her own needs and choice."
The Bush administration is concerned that an escalation in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians could inflame anti-American sentiments in the Arab and Muslim world, and weaken Islamic support for the president's campaign against terrorism.
The administration would not disclose what Bush conveyed in his letter to Arafat, but aides said the president is calling on Arafat to "make 100 percent effort" to bring an end to the violence, arrest terrorists and crack down on terrorist groups.
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