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BUSH PHONES ABBAS IN BID TO SALVAGE TALKS

President Bush today telephoned Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for the first time, underscoring the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to fight terror and resume peace negotiations.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Abbas told Bush he was committed to the U.S.-brokered plan for ending violence and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005.

"The president stressed the need for all parties to take concrete steps," Fleischer said.

Abbas has accepted the plan, although Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has voiced reservations with some of its terms, including a freeze on settlements.

Sharon postponed a planned visit today to the White House after five suicide attacks within 48 hours on Israelis.

Despite the attacks, Bush vowed Monday to continue his push for Mideast peace.

Bush sought to keep the effort alive by urging Palestinian officials, Arab leaders and European nations to use any influence they have to stop the terrorist attacks. He did not, however, call for any parallel action by Israel.

"It's clear there are people there that still cannot stand the thought of peace. It's sad, and it's pathetic," Bush said shortly after a suicide attack killed three at a shopping mall in northern Israel.

U.S. officials made it clear they would blame Palestinian leaders, not Israel, if the fledgling peace process collapsed.

A top official of Islamic Jihad, one of the groups that claimed responsibility for Monday's attack, threatened more violence.

"The Israelis respect violence and don't want to give away any rights," Jihad commander Bassam Saedi said in an interview. "We also know that fighting is the only thing that has helped our people in history. There will be no peace here, but resistance and pressure."

Despite the recent attacks, Israeli troops today pulled back to the edges of a Palestinian town in the Gaza Strip. The withdrawal from Beit Hanoun suggested that Israel is holding off on large-scale retaliation for now, amid international concern that new strikes would further weaken Abbas.

In Monday's attack, a suicide bomber strapped with military-grade explosives detonated a blast in a shopping mall that caters to affluent Israelis. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades joined Islamic Jihad in claiming responsibility. The bomber was identified as a 19-year-old woman from the West Bank.

Al Aqsa's claim of involvement was particularly significant because it is linked to Fatah, the Palestinian faction headed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Abbas also is aligned with Fatah.

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