U.S. Troops May Have to Go After Hamas, Lawmaker
Sunday, June 15, 2003; 10:35 AM
By Lori Santos
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Republican lawmaker said on Sunday U.S. forces may have to help "root out terrorism" in the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, including taking aim at Hamas.
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said American forces might be part of an international force to help stop attacks by Hamas, the main group behind a campaign of suicide bombings against Israelis, and other groups.
Hamas has said it would reject any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Lugar said such a force could be used to quell Israeli and Palestinian disputes, "and, maybe even more important, to root out the terrorism that is at the heart of the problem."
Asked if that meant such troops would go after Hamas or other groups, he said, "That may be the conclusion."
"...It may not be just Hamas but clearly Hamas is right in the gunsights," he added.
"DON'T UNDERESTIMATE PRESIDENT BUSH"
"...The terrorist aspect really has to be dealt with and that's why I say don't underestimate President Bush," Lugar said.
Lugar is headed to the region next week and said he, as well as top U.S. officials, would be there seeking to halt the cycle of violence that is jeopardizing the U.S.-backed peace "road map."
The United States has appealed for restraint from both sides after a week of bloodshed in which more than 50 people were killed.
Last week's violence included the killing of four soldiers in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus and seven Israeli helicopter strikes on militants, including an attempt to assassinate a Hamas leader.
Bush has sent the veteran diplomat John Wolf to the region to prevent the failure of the peace plan affirmed at a June 4 summit in Aqaba, Jordan, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
Lugar said Secretary of State Colin Powell also would be free after meetings in Jordan next Sunday.
Whether to insert forces into the volatile situation is being considered, including "whether they are to be all by themselves" or in conjunction with a United Nations or NATO force, he said.
"That is always a possibility but having said that, I would just say this is down the trail. We have to be very, very careful about the use of American forces," he said.
"But clearly, if force is required ultimately to root out terrorism, it is possible there would be American participation."
© 2003 Reuters