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Bush calls Sharon to discuss latest violence

President Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday.
President Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday to offer U.S. condolences on the Haifa suicide bombing and to discuss Israel's retaliatory strike on Syria, a Bush administration official said.

The call was previously scheduled, but occurred after Saturday's terrorist attack in Israel and the Israeli military strike hours later deep in Syrian territory, the first such strike since the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel.

Saturday's bombing in Haifa, Israel, killed 19 people and the suicide attacker. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

Israel Defense Forces said the camp in Syria was used for guerrilla training of Islamic Jihad and members of other terrorist groups. Syria said the target was civilian and an Islamic Jihad spokesman said it has no members working anywhere outside the occupied territories.

At the White House, the Bush administration official said Bush and Sharon "agreed on the need to avoid heightening tensions in the region at this time."

When asked whether the president in any way condemned the Israeli attack into a neighboring country, the official said, "Israel has the right to defend itself, but should consider the consequences of any action it takes."

The official said Bush and Sharon also agreed on the need to continue fighting terrorism.

A senior State Department official told CNN that no calls to the Syrians have been made yet, but that a public call by the administration for restraint will be followed by some kind of diplomatic activity.

Administration officials said the United States is urging "both Israel and Syria to avoid actions that heighten tensions or could lead to hostilities."

The official said the Bush administration was informed Sunday morning by the government of Israel about the attack that had occurred several hours earlier.

The State Department official said the administration is "concerned about either side taking actions that escalate tensions. We are also in the position of having made clear to Syria that it has to cease being a place that harbors terrorists and allows them to plan and execute attacks from its soil."

The administration is "seeking full details" of the Israeli airstrike, one of the officials added, saying the Bush administration has repeatedly told Syria "that it is on the wrong side in the war on terror and that it must stop harboring terrorists. That is still our view."

CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch at the White House and producer Elise Labott at the State Department contributed to this report.

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