WHouse declines to criticize Israel assassinations

Date: 06-22-05

WASHINGTON, June 22 (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday declined to criticize Israel for resuming an assassination policy against Islamic Jihad militants and called on the Palestinian leadership to do more to combat "terrorist" groups attempting to derail peace efforts.

In a sign that a truce with Palestinians has deteriorated significantly, Israel has now resumed the policy of "targeted assassination" of militants it shelved in February.

"There are terrorist organizations in the region that are determined to derail efforts toward the president's two-state vision of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security. Some of these are terrorist organizations that have direct ties to Damascus," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about Israel's decision.

"Our views on terrorist organizations are well known. They need to be dismantled. There is more that the Palestinian leadership can do to go after those who engage in violence and terrorist activity, and we encourage them to do more," McClellan added.

"Our policy (on targeted assassinations) is well known and is unchanged," McClellan said later, though officials declined to state what U.S. policy entailed. In the past, the U.S. government has voiced opposition to targeted assassinations.

Resurgent violence has raised the specter of disruption to Israel's planned August withdrawal from Gaza and dimmed hopes for "road map" peace talks afterward.

Word that the assassination policy had been dusted off came with Israeli confirmation of a failed missile strike on Tuesday while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were holding tense talks in Jerusalem.

"This is a very hopeful period in the Middle East," said McClellan, citing the Sharon-Abbas meeting. "The parties are working to coordinate their efforts on that disengagement plan... They've indicated that they'll continue meeting and discussing how to move forward. It's important that this disengagement plan is successful."

At their summit, Sharon complained to Abbas that the moderate Palestinian leader was doing little to rein in gunmen.

Other militant groups including the most powerful, Hamas, have generally respected the truce. The overall level of violence is much lower than during the Palestinian revolt launched in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in 2000.



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