WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority must immediately start to exert control over Gaza, a senior Bush administration official said on Thursday, suggesting it was a prerequisite to restarting the "road map" peace process and addressing Palestinian issues on the West Bank.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that renewed violence was "not helpful" to U.S.-sponsored peace efforts, saying "it shows the need for the Palestinian Authority to reorganize its security forces and step forward and take control of the security situation in Gaza."
The violence has dampened hopes that Israel”s troop pullout from Gaza, completed on Sept. 12, would help jump-start the "road map."
"My own sense is that it is winding down. Hamas has now declared that they want to go back to the cease-fire. That”s a good sign," the official said, but added: "What”s really required is for the Palestinian Authority to begin taking responsibility for the security and ensuring that these kinds of incidents don”t happen in future."
Exercising control over Gaza is expected to dominate talks in Washington on Oct. 20 between U.S. President George W. Bush and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It”s important that the Palestinian leadership act to end violence in Gaza. And that means policing Gaza to prevent violence from occurring in the first place," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said earlier on Thursday.
The senior Bush administration official said Abbas understands the need to disarm militants outside the Palestinian security forces. "He now has to step forward and make it a reality," the official said. Doing so, the official said, "will be important not only to make success in Gaza, to allow the borders to be reopened and commerce between the Palestinian people and the rest of the world."
"But it”s also going to be important if we”re going to move to the next phase, in terms of getting back on the road map, and talk about how to go forward as the road map shows, which is the way forward towards beginning to address the issues on the West Bank," the official said.
Palestinians have welcomed the end of 38 years of Israeli military rule in Gaza but worry Israel may now try to tighten its grip on settlements in the still-occupied West Bank.