US ignores international mood and lays blame on Palestinians

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The Independent US

Amid a wave of international concern over Israel's ongoing siege of Yasser Arafat, the United States again condemned the latest Palestinian suicide bombings yesterday and said Mr Arafat could do more to stop such attacks.

Several world leaders made direct appeals to Israel, asking it to show restraint and to ensure Mr Arafat's safety. The foreign ministers of China and Japan, and Morocco's King Mohammed called either the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, or the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, to voice concern. France, Germany, Turkey and Arab states also urged restraint.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has called on Mr Sharon to pull back his tanks from Mr Arafat's headquarters. Mr Straw tried to speak to Mr Arafat by telephone but the line went dead. He hopes to speak soon to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, about the siege.

The Speaker of Greece's parliament accused Israel yesterday of committing "genocide".

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates all made diplomatic appeals, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia contacted the US to voice his concerns.

Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said in a statement: "The military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians is cause for great concern. It holds the danger of a destabilisation of the entire region. The German government urgently appeals to the Israeli side to guarantee Palestinian President Arafat will not be harmed."

Amid such growing concern over Israel's siege of Mr Arafat's compound in Ramallah, the US has stood almost alone – backing Mr Sharon's right to defend his country.

On Saturday – with Mr Arafat still trapped and with his communications under threat – President George Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, that the Palestinian leader could, and should, do more to prevent suicide attacks, including the most recent in Tel Aviv.

Yesterday, a senior official repeated Mr Bush's assertion. "We condemn these terrorist attacks," the official said.

"Chairman Arafat knows what he needs to do. President Bush was very clear about that yesterday and in previous days and our heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to the victims and the families of the victims of these brutal attacks."

Washington's refusal to express anything other than "grave concern" about the situation in Ramallah underlines the difficulty which the Bush administration faces in addressing the problem of the Middle East, while also prosecuting its so-called war on terror.

When Mr Bush came to office last year, it was immediately made clear that the United States would play a much-reduced role in trying to achieve a peaceful settlement in the region and that the President would not expend the sort of personal and political capital that the previous president, Bill Clinton, had. A series of initiatives aimed at attempting to bring both sides together was terminated.

The attacks of 11 September have made criticism of Israel more difficult for Mr Bush – even if he wished to indulge in such activity. In the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, Mr Sharon visited Mr Bush, and argued the Palestinian suicide bombers were no different to those who had attacked the US. It was an argument which the US did not seek to counter.

While Mr Bush last year became the first US President to use the word "Palestine" in terms of an independent state, his administration's dealings with the two sides remain unbalanced. Though Mr Arafat has repeatedly condemned the spate of suicide bombings, Mr Bush has refused to meet the Palestinian leader until he makes a public call in Arabic for the suicide bombings to end and to arrest those involved in the attacks.

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