23 July 2002
Boucher Says Israeli Action Does Not Contribute to Peace
(Says U.S. government deeply regrets loss of civilian lives in Gaza)
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the "heavy-handed"
Israeli military action that killed innocent civilians in Gaza does
not contribute to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Boucher
made that statement in response to question about an Israeli missile
strike in Gaza that killed a Hamas leader and 14 civilians, including
"[W]e very deeply regret the loss of life of innocent civilians,
including the children who were hurt and killed in last night's
Israeli action. As the White House said earlier today, President Bush
believes that the heavy-handed action in Gaza last night, carried out
in a residential area and resulting in civilian casualties, does not
contribute to peace," Boucher said at the daily State Department
briefing July 23.
Boucher said the U.S. government has made its views about the attack
known to the Israeli government. The spokesman added that the U.S.
government opposes targeted killings and use of heavy weapons in
densely populated areas. He said the U.S. government believes that
Hamas bears a lot of responsibility for the overall climate of
violence that has been created by terrorist attacks.
Boucher said the Arms Export Control Act requires the U.S. government
to file a report if U.S. arms are not used for legitimate
self-defense. The spokesman said the U.S. government has not filed a
report regarding Israeli actions.
Boucher said that both Israelis and Palestinians have responsibilities
in the search for peace. He said the United States is pressing for
peace using a three-track formula involving security cooperation,
humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people and a resumption of
The following excerpt contains Boucher's comments about the
QUESTION: Change of subject, the Middle East? Has the Secretary talked
to Prime Minister Sharon about the missile strike in Gaza? And in the
State Department's view, is this an act of self-defense in terms of
the use of American weapons?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me say a couple things. First, we very deeply regret
the loss of life of innocent civilians, including the children who
were hurt and killed in last night's Israeli action. As the White
House said earlier today, President Bush believes that the
heavy-handed action in Gaza last night, carried out in a residential
area and resulting in civilian casualties, does not contribute to
peace. We have conveyed this view to the Israeli Government through
our Embassy, through our Ambassador in Israel. And I think it's been
stated quite clearly, both here and at the White House.
QUESTION: How about the use of American weapons?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, the Arms Export Control Act requires us to
do a report if we believe that US weaponry was not used -- or if
there's a substantial violation of the terms of an agreement governing
the use of US-origin defense articles; that is, if they're not being
used for legitimate self-defense or internal security. As we've said
before, we've not made such a report regarding Israel's actions.
QUESTION: Can we confer from that that you believe that the strike,
then, was in legitimate self-defense?
MR. BOUCHER: As I say, we've not made such a report.
QUESTION: You haven't made such a report, but is there discussion
about preparing to do so?
MR. BOUCHER: All we've ever really answered in response to these
questions is to note that we have not made such a report, and should
we do so we'll tell you. At this point we haven't.
QUESTION: You will?
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe.
QUESTION: Is there a review event by event of whether this meets --
MR. BOUCHER: It's an ongoing issue that gets raised from time to time
about the use of US weaponry.
QUESTION: Well, was it raised --
MR. BOUCHER: If there are specific events or allegations or
circumstances that lead people to look more closely, they will. But
I've made quite clear, I think, what our view is of this action. It
fits -- as we've said before, we've made repeatedly clear that we
oppose targeted killings. We have repeatedly criticized the use of
heavy weaponry in densely populated areas because of these kind of
dangers of large numbers of innocent civilians being killed.
QUESTION: But you touched on it when you say it doesn't -- or you
reminded us that the White House says this doesn't contribute to
peace. But the attack was almost coincident with four or five, some
folks would say, positive developments. Hamas, for instance, had said
it considered calling off attacks if Israel pulled out. Peres is
speaking of pulling out of Hebron and I forgot where else.
Is it the State Department's judgment that this will have a negative
impact on such gestures and maybe cause a reversal?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think you can make that kind of sweeping judgment
at this point. Certainly we continue to believe that it's important to
move forward on all three tracks on the area of security, on the area
of economic and humanitarian assistance, and on the political track as
We had good, productive and useful discussions with an Israeli team
that came yesterday to talk to Secretary Powell and other officials,
including Condi Rice. We have reviewed progress with them on the
discussions that the Quartet and the Arab foreign ministers had last
week, and we talked about how to advance on all these different areas.
So we continue the work to establish a situation which will be safe
and secure for Palestinians and Israelis alike, where economic
development and humanitarian assistance can go through, and where all
the people in the region can have a prospect of a political
QUESTION: It's a little early to ask, but more specifically have you
heard anything from Palestinians or whoever that this will have an
impact on peacemaking?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not. No, not that I've heard of -- not that I know
that we've heard anything particular on that at this point.
QUESTION: Two questions. First of all, do you believe that Hamas has
some responsibility for this event by, you know, sending out suicide
bombers into Israel and then essentially hiding within populated
areas? Do you believe that they have some responsibility for this?
MR. BOUCHER: We certainly believe that Hamas has a lot of
responsibility for the violence and the overall climate of violence
that's been created by the terrorist attacks that they have carried
out. There's no question in our minds that Hamas is responsible for
many of these attacks. They have claimed -- admitted responsibility to
many of them. They have killed many innocents.
It's important, though, I think, to remember that we all need to
respond to these attacks in a way that gets at the problem, and that
does contribute to ending the violence and not in a way that, as the
President's -- as the White House has made clear doesn't really
contribute to peace.
QUESTION: And let me just follow up on that. Regardless of the fact
that you feel that Hamas has a lot of responsibility for violence, do
you believe that the Israeli attack is going to end up damaging
Israel's international reputation and going to encourage criticism by
critics in Europe and the United Nations and around the world?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a prediction that you can make; you don't need me
to make it. I'm not -- the basis for our policy is what we believe is
in the best interest of Israel, and what's in the best interest of the
cause of peace, and that's why we're saying this.
QUESTION: I have this question of the use of US weapons. I'm not
clear; maybe you can explain it. What is it exactly that triggers a
review? Is it just the random inclination of the State Department that
they feel something should be looked into? Is there a requirement that
you review things after a certain time? I mean, there's been extended
Israeli use of American military hardware over the past few months in
a lot of these incursions. At what point is there a critical mass at
which you feel it's necessary to review?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the only thing I can really say it's an object of
constant attention. It's an object of ongoing review, that because it
is a legal responsibility that we have that we take seriously, we do
look at these events as they unfold, and should we determine that the
terms and conditions of sale, that the terms and conditions of the act
have been exceeded, then we would make the report.
But it is -- there's not a regular period. There's not a regular
report. There's a not a particular timetable for this. It's something
that we have to keep in mind because it's part of our legal
QUESTION: So the discussion rests with the State Department to decide
whether or not it needs to look at the question?
MR. BOUCHER: The responsibility rests with the State Department to
carry out this law, and we do that diligently every day.
QUESTION: Can I give it another try? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: Then let's go to him. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, you have a US (inaudible) plane hitting a civilian
neighborhood, killing a lot of children. How many of number of
Palestinian children has to die -- 25, 30, more, less -- for this to
trigger a law or a review?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I mean, that's absolutely not the case. We've been
quite clear on these kind of events. We've been quite clear our
opposition to the use of this kind of force in heavily populated
areas. We've been quite concerned about the loss of civilian life,
especially children. I think the United States position on this has
been stated quite clearly.
As far as the legal aspects of this, it's governed by a US law, it's
governed by a US law that we take seriously, that we implement.
QUESTION: But to what extent -- I'm sorry, just a quick follow-up --
to what extent the political, domestic considerations (inaudible) in
the arms of the law in this case?
MR. BOUCHER: The law is the law, and we implement it fairly.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't think I'm alone in seeing a pattern here;
this has happened before, when -- for example, when Hamas has
indicated it might be willing to stop bombings when things seem to be
moving ahead. Then we see Israelis attacking, assassinating people in
Do you see a pattern here, and does this lead you to any conclusions
about the good will of Prime Minister Sharon?
MR. BOUCHER: If you want to ask if there's a pattern, ask the Israelis
the reasons for their actions. We certainly follow these events
closely. We express our concerns and our views when it's appropriate.
But I don't have any broad judgments to make.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on slightly a different matter? You
spoke about the talks with the Israelis yesterday. Did that meeting
lead to any conclusions about US security plan, and is there any
progress on how you might present that to the Palestinian side?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, these talks covered a
number of areas, and as I said, they covered security; they talked
about the humanitarian situation, economics, a need for access and
opening up; they covered how to make progress on the political track.
We found our discussions with the Israelis to be useful and
productive, and we expect to have similar discussions with
working-level Palestinian officials as we move forward. But no, I
don't have anything scheduled at this point.
QUESTION: This administration has been very supportive of Prime
Minister Sharon. The President has met with him six or seven times.
The administration agrees with his policies on security first, a new
Palestinian leadership. You're not suggesting by your criticism of
this act that there's any sort of broader change of policy towards the
Sharon government or reviewing policy?
MR. BOUCHER: Fundamentally, the United States and Israel have a long
relationship based on our support for Israel and its security and its
democracy. The President has made clear in all his statements that
Israel has obligations too, that all the parties have obligations. As
we look for Palestinian reforms, we look for Palestinians to take
responsibility for security by reforming their security services. We
also look to Israel to take reciprocal steps, like easing the
closures, handing over tax revenue, facilitating movement of
humanitarian goods and services. These things remain part of the
The President has made clear again and again all parties have
responsibilities, and we look to all parties to carry out their
responsibility to create an environment where we can move forward,
where we can move forward to achieve real security for Israelis and
Palestinians alike. I think the statements we're making today about
these actions fit within that context.
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