Bush refuses to criticise Israeli attack on Syria

President George Bush today declined to criticise Israel for its air strike inside Syria, saying Israel "has got a right to defend herself."

But the President said he had cautioned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to try to avoid escalating tensions in the region.

He decried the "needless murder" of 19 people in a suicide attack by a Palestinian militant group in Israel on Saturday that led to the Israel's retaliatory attack on a suspected terrorist camp in Syria.

President Bush said that the Palestinian Authority must do more to fight terror and "must use whatever means is necessary .... all parties must assume responsibility."

He was speaking after the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, said he hoped to negotiate a quick truce with Israel, but would not use force against Palestinian militants under any circumstances - despite American demands for a clampdown on armed groups.

The President was asked at a news conference if he could work with a prime minister who would not use force against militants.

"We have not changed...the parties need to assume responsibility for their action in order for there to be peace," he replied.

President Bush said that he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday. "I made it very clear to the prime minister that...Israel's got a right to defend herself, that Israel must not feel constrained in terms of defense of the homeland," he said.

However, he added, "I said that it's very important all action should avoid escalation creating higher tensions."

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