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Middle East

Bush Admonishes Israel, Palestinians

President Bush, visiting the Mideast on Wednesday in hopes of forging a peace deal before the end of his term, told Israelis that "illegal" settlement outposts in disputed land must go and told Palestinians that no part of their territories can be "a safe haven for terrorists."

At a joint news conference with Bush earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "there will be no peace" unless attacks are halted from all parts of the Palestinian territories, including those not controlled by his negotiating partners in the Palestinian leadership. Olmert, however, said that both sides "are very seriously trying to move forward" on a peace agreement.

"Israel does not tolerate and will not tolerate the continuation of these vicious attacks," Olmert said, after two and a half hours of talks with Bush that made him uncharacteristically late for their appearance. "We will not hesitate to take all the necessary measures. There will be no peace unless terror is stopped. And terror will have to be stopped everywhere."

On Wednesday, Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed one militant and two civilians, according to Palestinian medics.

On the first day of his eight-day Mideast trip aimed at jump-starting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, Bush said: "I'm under no illusions. This is going to be hard work."

Bush said he and Olmert also discussed Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions and an incident Sunday when Iranian boats harassed and provoked three American Navy ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. officials said Iran threatened to explode the vessels, but the incident ended peacefully. The president said "all options are on the table to secure our assets." He said serious consequences would follow another Iranian provocation. "My advice to them is don't do it," he said.

Bush found himself challenged by his Israeli allies on a recent U.S. intelligence report saying Iran halted a nuclear weapons program in 2003. Tehran's nuclear ambitions are a chief fear in Israel, and the U.S. report led some in the region — both Israelis and Arab nations concerned about rising Iranian influence — to doubt the U.S. commitment to reining in Tehran. The report also undercut U.S. efforts to build support for sanctions against Iran.

"The fact that they suspended the program was heartening," Bush said. "The fact that they had one was discouraging because they could restart it."

Clearing up confusion about U.S. policy toward Iran is a key subtext of Bush's trip, which will also take him to Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Bush visits Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday in the West Bank. But he will not stop in or near the Gaza Strip, the other Palestinian territory that is controlled by

Islamic Hamas militants who are not a party to negotiations. It was from Gaza that militants launched rockets Wednesday into southern Israel and where Palestinian hard-liners staged a small anti-Bush protest.

The president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the people of Gaza must at some point decide what kind of future they want and whether they want Hamas in charge. Such decisions will play a big role in what sort of Palestinian state can be created. "At this point, it's a pretty depressing situation," Hadley said of the split in Palestinian control.

Bush's arrival in Israel came amid ongoing land squabbles and fears of violence. There's been little headway since he hosted a splashy Mideast conference in November in Annapolis, Md., which launched the first major peace talks in seven years.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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