US Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging leaders in the Middle East to act against militant Palestinian groups he says are trying to block an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Mr. Powell spoke by telephone today (Thursday) with leaders from Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Mr. Powell asked Arab leaders to speak out and stop the transfer of funds to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups he described as determined to use terror to stop peace.
The flurry of diplomacy comes after a spike in violence that started with a suicide bombing Wednesday by the militant group Hamas. The blast killed 16 Israelis.
Following the suicide attack, Israel launched three helicopter strikes on Gaza City, killing 17 Palestinians, including several Hamas members. The latest strike today (Thursday) killed the leader of the group's military wing, Yasser Taha, and his wife and young daughter.
In another development, US officials say President Bush is sending John Wolf, the U-S diplomat in charge of overseeing implementation of the road map peace plan, to the region in the coming days.
In violence in the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli motorist. Later, in Jenin, Israeli forces shot and killed two Islamic Jihad militants in a gunfight.
The road map calls for an end to violence and a series of reciprocal steps by Israelis and Palestinians leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
Earlier today (Thursday), Hamas urged foreigners to leave Israel, saying it had ordered all its military cells to immediately carry out more attacks on Israelis.
Hamas says Wednesday's suicide bombing was meant to avenge an Israeli attempt to kill one of the group's senior officials, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his government will continue to hunt down Palestinian militants, while making every effort to achieve peace with the Palestinian Authority.