5 of 19 killed in Israel bus bombing were Americans

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The United States is considering no contingency plans should the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas collapse after the devastating suicide bombing earlier this week.

At least five of the 19 casualties in the Jerusalem bus bombing were U.S. nationals. U.S. officials said 12 of the injured were also American citizens.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has been unwilling to consider contingency plans should either Abbas or Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan quit or become incapacitated amid a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian war.

On Wednesday, President George Bush telephoned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and relayed condolences to the families of those killed in the latest Hamas suicide attack, Middle East Newsline reported. Bush, who did not telephone Abbas, was said to have pledged that the United States would not compromise on what the president termed terrorism.

The officials said the administration has become totally committed to the new PA government and regards Abbas and Dahlan as the key elements of a U.S. policy that seeks to establish a Palestinian state and stabilize the Middle East in wake of the war in Iraq.

"The basic question is what happens if Abbas either resigns or is swept away by his inability to stop an escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence," an official said. "The administration considers this as unthinkable because it is determined to maintain this process for at least the next year."

The officials said the administration has focused its efforts on restraining Israeli retaliation for Palestinian insurgency attacks while promoting the roadmap for a Palestinian state with interim borders by the end of 2003. White House envoy John Wolf held talks in Jerusalem on Thursday with Israeli and PA senior officials to prevent the torpedoing of the diplomatic process and bolster the Abbas regime.

"At this point, we understand the first priority is security, and that more needs to be done to dismantle the capability of the terrorist groups," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We are talking to both sides and how to move forward to achieve those goals."

"The two leaders said this latest attack on Jerusalem only reinforced the need to crack down on terrorists and terrorist infrastructure," White House spokesman McClellan said. "They agreed that the way forward to peace is through the dismantlement of terrorist organizations."

For his part, Sharon was said to have complained to Bush that the PA had failed to take steps to stop suicide bombings and other Palestinian attacks.

The prime minister warned that Israel would not agree to advance in the implementation of the roadmap until the PA dismantles insurgency cells.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has urged both Israelis and Palestinians to exhibit patience and expect numerous setbacks in plans to implement the roadmap. They said the U.S. commitment to the roadmap has also become a key element in Washington's relations with Arab allies in the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

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