Israeli premier Ariel Sharon has criticised his Palestinian counterpart Mahmud Abbas for "not doing anything" to rein in Palestinian resistance fighters.
His blunt attack on the Palestinian leader was made to a US Congressman during a conversation about Middle East issues.
The direct criticism of Abbas will be viewed by critics of Sharon as a deliberate ploy to cool relations with his Palestinian counterpart in the hope of stalling the peace process.
Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, also revealed he had received strong support from Sharon for proposed US sanctions against Syria, during a Jerusalem meeting that covered Israel-Palestine peace efforts, Iran and Turkey, as well as Syria.
Abbas’s ability to hold Palestinian guerrilla groups to a ceasefire has come into question after last week’s resistance attacks that killed two Israeli civilians.
Israel seems set to continue with its policy of pre-emptive attacks on Palestinian targets, while talks to negotiate Israeli withdrawals from key West Bank towns fell through late last week.
Sharon prefers Abbas to Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, Engel told Reuters, but believes Arafat still controls at least 60% of Palestinian security forces and is undermining Palestinian adherence to the US-backed peace plan known as the road map.
Sanctions against Syria
The Bush administration’s opposition to a US bill that would impose sanctions on Syria seems to be fading, in a shift likely to please the Israeli premier, Engel said.
''One way we could put back the pressure on Syria ... is by passing this act"
Eliot Engel, US congressman
The Syria Accountability Act cites Syria's support for guerrilla groups such as Hizb Allah, continued military presence in Lebanon, cooperation with Iraq, and alleged development of weapons of mass destruction as reasons for imposing penalties.
As the ground was being laid for the Iraq war during 2002, the US administration successfully prevailed on Congressional leaders to block the legislation.
Officials argued it would undermine US efforts to achieve a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement, maintain high level communications with Syrian officials to avert serious escalation on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and obtain Syrian cooperation with the administration's policies toward Iraq.
US presidents usually oppose legislation that might restrict their foreign policy options and US President George Bush is no different, Engel said.
But he said the bill now has the support of majorities in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, adding, "We've gotten some rumblings the administration may mute or lift their opposition."
Syria's "collaboration" with Iran in Lebanon - where Tehran backs Hizb Allah guerrillas - is a major concern, he said.
"Sharon said that pressure was put on Syria during the Iraq war and the aftermath but now the pressure has been let up ... One way we could put back the pressure on Syria ... is by passing this act," Engel said.