Lugar: US Troops May Have To Go After Hamas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A leading Republican lawmaker said on Sunday U.S. forces may have to help “root out terrorism” in the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, including taking aim at Hamas, the main group behind a campaign of suicide bombings against Israelis.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said American forces, either acting alone or as part of an international force, could be used to quell Israeli and Palestinian disputes, “and, maybe even more important, to root out the terrorism that is at the heart of the problem.”

The Jewish state is firmly opposed to such intervention. Hamas has said it would reject any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Asked if that meant such troops would go after Hamas, Lugar said, “That may be the conclusion.”

“…It may not be just Hamas but clearly Hamas is right in the gunsights,” the Indiana lawmaker added.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have also been tied to recent attacks.

’Don’t Underestimate President Bush’

“I don’t want to race ahead of a lot of talks that must take place that set the stage for this,” Lugar said.

“… (but) the terrorist aspect really has to be dealt with and that’s why I say don’t underestimate President Bush.”

Israel maintains the presence of foreign forces would block contacts to end a Palestinian uprising for independence that erupted in September 2000, while providing insufficient measures against militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We are always happy to see American actions against terrorism, but with all due respect, we don’t need them to do our fighting for us,” government spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

Lugar will lead a congressional delegation to Jordan and Iraq next week and said top U.S. officials would be seeking to halt the cycle of violence that is jeopardizing the U.S.-backed peace “road map.”

The United States has appealed for restraint from both sides after a week of bloodshed in which more than 50 people were killed.

In Paris, France said it would be discussing with European Union colleagues the possibility of sending peacekeeping forces to the region.

Last week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he thought an armed peacekeeping force might calm the situation, but Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out sending peacekeepers.

Bush sent diplomat John Wolf to the region to try to prevent the failure of the peace plan affirmed at a June 4 summit in Aqaba, Jordan, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Lugar said Powell also would be free after meetings in Jordan next Sunday with members of the so-called quartet, which includes the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia.

With Abbas unable “to take on Hamas,” Lugar said whether to insert U.S. forces into the volatile situation was being considered, including “whether they are to be all by themselves” or in conjunction with a United Nations or NATO force.

“Having said that, I would just say this is down the trail. We have to be very, very careful about the use of American forces,” he said.

“But clearly, if force is required ultimately to root out terrorism, it is possible there would be American participation.” (Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem)