President Bush issued a stern message to both sides in the Middle East conflict today, calling upon Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and asking the Palestinians to do more to crack down on terrorists.
Less than two hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to let U.S. Middle East peace envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been trapped in his West Bank headquarters by the Israeli military since last Friday.
"The prime minister has decided to allow the American envoy, Gen. Anthony Zinni, to meet the chairman of the Palestinian Authority in accordance with the request of the general," Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said, reading from a statement. It was not immediately clear when the meeting would take place.
In a televised address made from the White House Rose Garden today with Secretary of State Colin Powell by his side, Bush said the world "was grieving" over the violence that has gripped the Middle East.
"When an 18-year-old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the future itself is dying, the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people," Bush said.
Next Steps for U.S.
Bush announced he was sending Powell to the region to help bring an end to the bloodshed.
"I hope that Secretary Powell can come immediately to the region because any delay of even a single hour could mean the lives, the difference between saving the life and losing the life of a Palestinian or an Israeli," Bush said.
Amid international criticism that Washington has maintained a diplomatic distance while the Middle East has been plunged into a bloodbath over the past week, Bush said the "world expected an immediate cease-fire."
"I expect better leadership, and I expect results," he said.
Emphasizing that he was speaking "as a committed friend of Israel, out of concern for its long-term security," Bush called on Israel to "show a respect for — and concern about — the dignity of the Palestinian people."
Responding to key Arab and Palestinian demands, he said Israel "must stop" building Jewish settlements in occupied lands and end its occupation in line with U.N. resolutions.
"I ask Israel to halt its incursion into Palestinian areas and begin a withdrawal of those cities it has recently occupied," he said.
However, a senior Israeli government adviser said Israel would not end its mission in the territories until the threat of terror was gone. "Before we go out we want to make sure terrorism doesn't come with us," the official told ABCNEWS.
Bush also called on Arafat to deliver "a clear and unequivocal message to terrorists: Blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause."
In a harsh condemnation of the Palestinian leader, Bush said "the situation in which he [Arafat] finds himself today is largely of his own making."
Sharon has said Arafat would be allowed to leave Ramallah if he accepted a "one-way ticket" out of the Palestinian territories without his friends or family.
Arafat has refused and has vowed to die a martyr rather than leave.
Bush also called on the Arab world to make a commitment to peace, and on Syria to act against groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Immediately after the speech, an Israeli government spokesman said "we look forward to Powell's arrival and look forward to strengthening the relations between the United States and Israel."