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White House wary of Israeli raid

Despite 'terror,' U.S. warns, 'This is not the path to peace'

Bush characterized Wednesday's suicide bombing in northern Israel as "brutal terror."  

From Kelly Wallace and John King
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senior White House officials reacted with frustration Wednesday night as Israel sent troops into the Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah as part of its response to a suicide bombing earlier in the day that killed 17 Israelis.

"We are just gathering information about what is happening and -- I am in no way criticizing Israel -- but this is not the path to peace," said one senior official, who asked not to be identified.

President Bush was told of the Israeli sweep into Ramallah shortly before he addressed a congressional picnic at the White House. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was working the telephones trying to get information about the situation, chief of staff Andrew Card said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bush condemned in "strongest terms" the attack, saying the suicide bombing "underscores the importance of the Palestinian Authority developing a security force that can be relied on to stop and prevent attacks." (More on the bombing)

CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on the bombing and how Israel might respond (June 5)

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White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would not be deterred by "the worst enemies of not only the people of Israel who seek peace, but also of the Palestinian people and their hope for a better life."

However, the president, who characterized the attack as "brutal terror," did not publicly single out Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his call to do more to stop the terror.

The move appeared to be part of an administration effort to minimize the importance of Arafat and encourage other leaders of the Palestinian Authority to make the necessary reforms.

"In the president's eyes, Yasser Arafat has never played a role as someone who could be trusted or was effective, and so that's why the president is focused on the Palestinian people and their just needs and their just concerns," Fleischer said. "And the president's focus is less on any one individual and more on the structures, the government, the authority the Palestinian people deserve."

The bombing in Israel came just days before a period of intense diplomacy for the White House, with Bush meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday and Saturday at the presidential retreat at Camp David and with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House on Monday. (More on key players)

U.S. officials said there were no immediate indications the Israeli response would cause Sharon to further delay his visit to the United States. Sharon was to leave Israel on Friday and visit the White House on Monday: The Israeli government said Sharon would delay his departure until Saturday after Wednesday's bombing.

During his meeting with Bush, Mubarak is expected to push for a timeline for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Before Bush meets with Mubarak and Sharon, Fleischer said the president would discuss the progress of two U.S. envoys in the region: Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who is examining the political prospects of moving forward, and CIA Director George Tenet, who is trying to consolidate the Palestinian security forces into a unified team.

Fleischer could not confirm a report which said the administration was pushing to convene an international conference in Turkey in July.




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