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Senator: U.S. force may be needed in Mideast

Lugar said a U.S.-led peacekeeping force might be necessary to stop Mideast violence.
Lugar said a U.S.-led peacekeeping force might be necessary to stop Mideast violence.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. forces could help target Palestinian militant groups if the Palestinians' new prime minister is unable to persuade them to end their deadly campaign against Israel, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, said it "may be the conclusion" that an international force is needed to stop the violence and if so, "it is possible that there will be an American participation."

"But having said that, I would just say this is down the trail," he said. "We have to be very, very careful about the use of American forces, whether they are to be all by themselves, whether with NATO, whether with the U.N., with whoever."

Asked if that meant such troops would go after Hamas, Lugar said: "It may not be just Hamas, but clearly Hamas is right in the gunsights."

Two top Senate Intelligence Committee members, including the Republican chairman, Pat Roberts of Kansas, also urged caution on the issue of possible U.S. troop involvement.

Roberts told CBS's "Face the Nation" that "most of us have thought about a peacekeeping force" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but taking on Hamas would be "a far different role other than peacekeeping."

"That would be rather a dramatic step, to say the least," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Congress "would be very cautious" on such a potentially explosive issue.

"First of all, we would want to know whether the parties would want an international force there," he told CBS. "But I think, more importantly, we've got to get the Palestinian Authority to track down Hamas. ... That should be our major focus."

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The group's military wing has acknowledged terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel.

President Bush, spending Father's Day weekend with his father and other family members at the Bushes' compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, told reporters Sunday "that the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas and" other militant groups who engage in deadly violence.

"The message is clear," he said. "Prime Minister [Mahmoud] Abbas wants peace. Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon wants peace. America wants peace. The European Union wants peace. But there are clearly killers who don't.

"For those of us who are interested in moving the process forward, we must combine our efforts to cut off all money and support for anybody who tries to sabotage the peace process."

Bush said he would "lend the weight" of his government to support the drive for peace, which he predicted would succeed, but only with "a lot of work."

Lugar said he did not want to "race ahead of a lot of talks that must take place" and that the Israelis and Abbas ought to be allowed to "settle the situation."

But, Lugar said, Abbas "is simply incapable of doing that."

"He indicated it would be civil war," he said. "He doesn't have the forces."

The Israelis, Lugar said, "are fully up to the task of dealing with Hamas, and they should," although he said he does not support Israel's policy of "targeted killings" of militant leaders.

Lugar also said an armed international force could be needed to keep the Palestinians and Israelis apart.

"And even more important, ... to rout out the terrorism which is at the heart of the problem," he said.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority endorsed a road map for peace created by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Initial steps in the road map require Israel's dismantling of unauthorized settlement outposts and Palestinian efforts to crack down on terrorism.

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