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Powell in blast-through vow

Jerusalem, June 20 (Reuters): US secretary of state Colin Powell called the militant group Hamas an enemy of peace during a troubleshooting mission to the West Asia today and vowed to “blast through” those behind the latest wave of violence.

Powell’s talks with the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers to salvage a US-backed “road map” coincided with more bloodshed as one Israeli was killed and three injured when their car was ambushed by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank. Powell said a surge of bloodletting in which more than 50 people on both sides have been killed in the past two weeks had re-energised Washington’s peace efforts.

“President Bush is committed that we must... keep moving forward and push through, blast through those who would try to stop us, who would try to keep us from our goal of peace through acts of violence and terror,” Powell said.

Powell, who met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, said he would press Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas not just to reach a ceasefire deal with militants but to eliminate their capacity to attack Israelis.

Powell made clear yesterday that the US-sponsored “road map” to peace also depended on restraint by Israel, whose Right-wing government accepted the plan only under heavy US pressure. Powell was intent on refocusing both leaders on commitments they made at a June 4 peace summit with US President George W. Bush in Jordan in which they affirmed the road map that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

But he also urged both sides to have patience with each other, underlining Israeli and Palestinian predictions that no breakthrough was likely during his seven-hour stint of shuttle diplomacy.

Abbas’ efforts to nudge powerful militant factions into a ceasefire have been fruitless so far. Hamas and smaller factions have rejected the notion unless Israel ends military action.

“The enemy of peace has been Hamas, especially over the last two weeks,” Powell said at a joint news conference with Sharon.

“As long as they have...a commitment to terror and violence and a desire to destroy the state of Israel, I think this is a problem we have to deal with in its entirety.”

Powell also dismissed as “totally inadequate” efforts by Syria to rein in militant groups with offices in Damascus. Hamas is headquartered in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Senior Hamas official Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, who was wounded in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza last week, said in response: “Colin Powell proved that he is a real slave to the Zionists, a liar and a hypocrite.”

The radical Islamic group, sworn to Israel’s destruction, claimed responsibility for a Jerusalem bus bombing that killed 17 people last week after the failed Israeli attempt on Rantissi’s life. The bombing was followed by a series of Israeli air strike that killed militants and civilians.

Despite that, Israeli and Palestinian sources said security chiefs had made progress toward a deal for an Israeli troop pullback in the northern Gaza Strip and West Bank city of Bethlehem as proving grounds for wider military withdrawals.

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