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A Week After Israeli Bus Attack, U.S. Brands Incident as Terrorism

From Reuters

Almost a week after a fatal bus crash, the United States on Tuesday branded as terrorism the incident in which 14 Israelis were killed when a Palestinian grabbed the steering wheel and sent the vehicle into a ravine.

The accident has inflamed anti-Arab passions in Israel and is believed to have strengthened support for political forces opposing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in which the Bush Administration is deeply involved.

“On the basis of available evidence now, it was clearly a terrorist attack,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

He addressed a news briefing hours after Israel accused the United States of giving Palestinians a “license to kill” by not condemning more strongly the bus attack.

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“If the United States does not call it terrorism, in fact it gives a license to kill to every Palestinian individual or organization,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alon Liel said.

In Washington, Boucher replied: “There is no license being offered.”

Boucher conceded that the United States did not know whether anyone else--other than the Palestinian who seized the steering wheel--was behind the attack. But he said it was apparent that the incident was pre-planned, politically motivated and an act against innocent civilians.

At that time, the State Department described the incident as senseless and tragic but declined to define it as terrorism, saying it did not have the information to warrant that characterization. The word terrorism is a loaded term in the Middle East. Israeli officials said Washington’s refusal to use the word was an effort to justify continued U.S. talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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