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White House condemns 'homicide bombing'

A woman at the scene reacts to the bomb blast in Jerusalem Friday.
A woman at the scene reacts to the bomb blast in Jerusalem Friday.  

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House condemned as a "homicide bombing" Friday's deadly attack in Jerusalem, but said it would not disrupt Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission, including plans to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Separately, U.S. officials confirmed that Israel has shared with the administration new documents Israel says show high-level Palestinian Authority involvement in financing and supporting terror strikes on Israel.

President Bush was in the White House situation room for his daily national security briefing when he was handed a note informing him of the Jerusalem attack, U.S. officials said. Powell was on his way to northern Israel at the time.

"The president condemns this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

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"There are clearly people in the region who want to disrupt Secretary Powell's mission. The president will not be deterred from seeking peace despite this attack. There are people who don't want peace. The president wants peace and he will make every effort to seek peace and that is why the secretary is in the region," Fleischer said.

Some in Israel questioned whether Powell should keep his planned meeting with Arafat because of the latest attack, but the White House said there was no change in the secretary's plans.

One senior official familiar with the planning, however, said Powell planned to deliver a blunt message: that Arafat is held in low regard by the White House because the president believes he has ignored calls to do more to condemn terrorism and to stop attacks.

"Chairman Arafat has not earned the president's trust," Fleischer told reporters at the White House.

U.S. confirms getting documents from Israel

Fleischer confirmed that the U.S. government had received documents from Israel that Israel say provide fresh evidence of senior Palestinian Authority support for terrorist cells. "We have no conclusions yet about those documents," he said.

The documents were seized from Arafat's compound during the recent Israeli military offensive, according to an Israeli diplomat familiar with the exchange. Some have been released to the news media. Others have been kept out of the public eye but shared in intelligence exchanges between the United States and Israeli governments.

One U.S. official said such exchanges are routine and compared this one to the Israeli briefing and document-sharing provided after the seizure of the Karinne A, a ship that was carrying an arms shipment from Iran to Palestinian militants. U.S. officials said information provided by Israel in that case provided a direct link to top Palestinian officials.

The Sharon government has said it has a right to rout terrorist forces in the Palestinian territories and to attack Arafat's compound because of what Israel says is clear evidence of Palestinian Authority involvement in attacks on Israel.

U.S. officials do not accept every conclusion Israel has made from the new cache of documents but senior officials say there is broad general agreement that senior Palestinian Authority officials are involved in weapons purchases and that Arafat himself appears to have authorized payments for some purchases.

"As we said after the arms shipment, it is clear that certain things simply cannot happen, certainly not on a sustained basis, without the knowledge and support of the Palestinian authority," said a senior U.S. official.

These U.S. officials said the latest intelligence exchange only reinforced the longstanding administration view of Arafat's failure to commit himself to fighting terrorism.

They said Powell plans to make clear in any meeting with Arafat that in the White House view he must act immediately and decisively if he is to establish any credibility in the administration as someone committed to peace and opposed to terrorism.




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