For the Bush administration, which didn't want to get involved Middle East peace making to begin with, the escalating violence is not just a human tragedy, it's also a distraction in the larger war against terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday that Israel has assured the U.S. government that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will not be harmed or captured.
The Israelis have seized Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah and confined Arafat to several rooms in his office building.
Powell said U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni will remain in the region, but called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to carefully consider the consequences of his actions.
"The Israelis have said to me that it is not their intention to occupy any of these areas," Powell told reporters at a hastily called news conference. "They are going in to find terrorists, to pick up weapons and it is not their intention to occupy these areas on a long-term basis."
Powell, speaking hours after a suicide bomber killed two people in a Jerusalem supermarket, again called on Arafat to act against those responsible for attacks on Israel.
He said the attacks have destroyed the "guarded optimism" U.S. officials had felt about resuming the peace process.
"Let's be clear about what brought it all to a halt — terrorism. Terrorism that would target those who are innocent civilians," Powell said.
But he also called on Sharon to use restraint in Israeli reprisals and consider the consequences of escalating military action.
Many Palestinians believe that the bloodshed won't end until the U.S. forces Israel to pull back.
They are likely to be disappointed, reports Plante.
The president got regular updates at his ranch Friday, from his top national security advisers, including Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, but his staff made clear he has no intention of personally intervening in what he views as a no-win situation.
The decision was made to keep Zinni in the Mideast region to continue to talk with both Palestinians and Israelis, Powell said. Zinni spoke to Arafat on Friday.
"General Zinni was quite encouraged by the progress he was making until we had the massacre the other night," Powell said, speaking of a suicide attack at the start of Passover that killed 22 Israeli civilians.
Many in the administration think Arafat has little incentive to stop the violence, but they continue to hope that international pressure will yet force him to do so.