Bush Clearly On Israel's
Side Say Palestinians


JERUSALEM (AP) -- Palestinians expressed disappointment today over remarks by US President George W Bush after his meeting with Israel's prime minister.
They complained Bush had come down on Israel's side on the main issues.
At a White House news conference after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Bush demanded that the Palestinians take concrete steps to dismantle terrorist organisations, singling out the violent Islamic Hamas.
In his public remarks, Bush did not press Sharon to stop building a security barrier between Israel and the West Bank and did not press Israel to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
Also today, the commander of the Israeli military warned that a resumption of violence, reduced significantly by a Palestinian truce, might be only days away.
Israel and the Palestinians are vying for US backing in negotiations over the US-backed roadmap peace plan.
The Bush-Sharon meeting followed a summit on Friday between the president and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, Palestinians had been saying that Bush accepted the Palestinian stand on most issues.
However, after the Bush-Sharon meeting, Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat complained that Bush took the Israeli line.
Erekat was disappointed that Bush did not dictate a time line for implementing the points of the peace roadmap which begins with a halt to nearly three years of violence and leads through three stages to a Palestinian state in 2005.
"Time is of the essence and time is running out," Erekat said. He also criticised Bush for failing to come out in public against the security barrier.
"I had hoped that Mr Bush would stand there next to Sharon and tell him stop it, stop building the wall," Erekat said.
Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a state, but the proposed route of the wall cuts deeply into the West Bank in some places to include Jewish settlements on the Israeli side. The Israelis say the wall is necessary to keep Palestinian bombers out of Israel, but Sharon said efforts would be made to keep disruptions of Palestinian lives to a minimum.
Bush said several times that the Palestinians must dismantle terror groups, mentioning Hamas by name.
Abbas has refused to order a crackdown or a confrontation, fearing a civil war; preferring instead to end violence through agreement, like the current ceasefire.
However, Bush was adamant, repeating the roadmap language that calls for dismantling the violent groups.
In Gaza, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi dismissed Bush's remarks.
"The Bush statement reflects the total bias of the United States in favour of the Zionist enemy," Rantisi said, "and it reflects also the failure of Prime Minister Abbas' visit to Washington".
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr thanked Bush for his support for a Palestinian state but called on the United States "to exert more pressure in controlling the Israeli policy in the Palestinian territory".
Though it is not part of the roadmap, Palestinians have been pressing Israel to release many of the approximately 7,700 prisoners it is holding, but Bush said Israel should not be asked to free Palestinians who might return to terrorism.
He said Sharon should work to "release those prisoners that won't create the conditions of terror".
Erekat said Israel should respond to a reduction in violence by declaring an amnesty for all prisoners, pledging that no prisoners will remain in Israeli hands when the Palestinian state is created in 2005, according to the roadmap.
Violence remained at a low ebb through Sharon's eighth visit to Washington since Bush took office.
Several of Sharon's trips have been disrupted by Palestinian attacks in Israel.
On June 29, Islamic groups called a three month truce and Fatah, headed by Yasser Arafat and Abbas, declared a six month halt in attacks against Israelis.
The Israeli military commander, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, warned that the truce might soon end.
Speaking at a processing centre for new army recruits, Yaalon said that unless the militant groups were disarmed, "it's possible that we will see a lull in violence for a certain period, perhaps even a long period, but I will start to count the days until the outbreak of the next wave of violence".
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