WASHINGTON (AFP) â€” Top US officials on Tuesday pointed fingers at both Syria and Iran as they denounced the deadly suicide bombing at a shopping centre in Israel.
The attack in the Israeli city of Netanya was the first suicide bombing inside Israel in four-and-a-half months. At least three Israelis as well as the bomber were killed in the blast. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the event as a terrorist attack “against the Israeli people,” as well as “a direct attack against the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian leadership has been clear in condemning the attack and now we must see actions that send a message that terror will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement.
“It is also essential that the Syrian government end its support for terrorist organisations, particularly those which are headquartered and harboured in Damascus such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Syria should immediately stop letting its territory be used for insurgent activities and for activities which frustrate the aspirations of the Lebanese, Iraqi, and Palestinian people,” she said.
Earlier in the day Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld suggested that Iran may have played a role in the attack.
“I wouldn’t want to suggest that I know about the attack today, but clearly that’s been one of the stated and continuous purposes of Iran, to harm Israel,” said Rumsfeld, speaking at a press conference with his Italian counterpart Antonio Martino.
“We know that Iran has been on the terrorist list. We know that Iran has been assisting Hizbollah and other organisations and moving equipment and people down through Damascus into Beirut and down into positions where they can attack Israel for years and years and years and years,” he said.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said: “We condemn, in the strongest terms, this vicious attack. There is no justification for the murder of innocent civilians.
“Terrorists are seeking to derail the peace efforts in the Middle East, and all parties must step forward and combat terrorism,” said McClellan.
The White House had no comment about a possible Israeli response, but acting State Department Spokesman Tom Casey seemed to urge restraint.
“We certainly acknowledge and support Israel’s right to defend itself. Of course, as always, we ask them to consider the consequences of any actions they might take,” he said.
A State Department official sought to play down the impact of the attack, noting that the Islamic Jihad had never signed on to the ceasefire between Palestinian groups and Israel.
“That’s why I don’t want to make more of this than it is,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “I’m not willing to, in light of this, say we have now just blown up the entire process.”
The bombing came at a delicate time a month ahead of Israel’s planned pullout from Gaza. But Casey brushed off a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that there would be no further disengagement after the Gaza withdrawal.
“Where our focus is for right now is ensuring that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank does move forward,” he said.
“We do believe this creates a new and genuine opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to move forward and to make progress on the roadmap.”