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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Hamas blamed for Mid-East violence
Israeli mourners
There has been an escalation of violence in recent days

The United States has blamed the increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence on the militant group Hamas, amid fears for the future of the roadmap plan for peace in the region.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the continuing violence was not the fault of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas, describing the group as terrorists intent on wrecking the peace process.

But Hamas spokesman Ismail Abu Shanab told the BBC that the group would launch further attacks inside Israel to deter Israeli strikes against Palestinians.

The warning comes two days after Hamas carried out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that left 17 people dead, including the bomber.

The issue is Hamas. The terrorists are Hamas
Ari Fleischer
White House spokesman

The bombing has caused a fierce response from Israeli forces in which a number of Palestinians have been killed.

In incidents on Thursday, two members of the Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, were killed during a gun battle with Israeli troops in the West Bank, and an Israeli missile attack on a car in Gaza City killed seven people.

The BBC's John Leyne, in Washington, says that barely a week after President Bush visited the region, no new ideas are emerging from the White House on how to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

"The issue is Hamas. The terrorists are Hamas," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

'Peace plan still relevant'

Our correspondent says US Secretary of State Colin Powell has been on the phone to various leaders in the region, urging them to stop funds getting through to Hamas

ROAD MAP'S PATH TO CRISIS
Relatives at funeral of one of Wednesday's Jewish bomb victims
4 June: US-Jordanian-Israeli summit in Aqaba
8 June: Hamas attacks Gaza army base, kills four soldiers
10 June: Israeli attempt to kill Hamas leader Rantissi
11 June: Suicide attack on Jerusalem bus; Israeli missile strikes on Gaza

Senior US diplomat John Wolf is expected to arrive in Israel on Saturday to lead an American team charged with monitoring the US-sponsored peace process.

And Mr Powell is also due back in the region later this month, when he will meet the rest of the international quartet - the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - that drafted the roadmap.

US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said she was convinced that the Bush peace plan remained "absolutely" relevant.

But the BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem says that in the fight between the Israeli Government and Palestinian militants, there appears to be little room right now for the road map.

Hamas has warned foreigners to leave Israeli soil and pledged to bomb the Israeli state into "rubble".

'An eye for an eye'

In a website statement, Hamas's military wing claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bomb attack in Jerusalem, naming the bomber as 18-year-old Abd-al-Muti Muhammad Salih Shabanah, of Hebron.

Palestinian crowd around wreckage of Yasser Taha's car
There has been a vicious circle of violence

And Ismail Abu Shanab told the BBC's World Today programme: "We have to face this (Israeli) threat by defending ourselves, by more resistance, by more operations against Israelis.

"The rule of an eye for an eye is applied now while the Israelis are carrying a wide-ranging war against our people. We have no other alternative."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has appealed to the United Nations to intervene to stop "the bloodbath perpetrated by the Israeli occupying forces" since the Bush-led peace talks in Jordan and Egypt earlier in June.

Israeli army radio has been reporting that the forces are now under orders to "completely wipe out" Hamas.

The radio said everyone from the lowliest member to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin - the crippled spiritual guide of Hamas - was a target.




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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The prospects for the Road Map have been blighted"



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