Bush Pushes Mideast Peace Plan

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- U.S. President George W. Bush launched the most ambitious U.S. Middle East peace mission in two years Tuesday, meeting Arab leaders to try to win support for ending Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

In opening remarks to the U.S.-Arab summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Bush told Israel it had a responsibility to deal with Jewish settlements.

"Israel has got responsibilities. Israel must deal with the settlements. Israel must make sure there is a continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home," Bush said.

A freeze on settlement activity is a key part of the Middle East peace "road map," drawn up by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

U.S. hopes for progress have been buoyed by word that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to announce plans to uproot some rogue Jewish settler outposts. The international community considers the settlements illegal, although Israel disputes this.

Amid tight security, Bush met host Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before the two leaders joined Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Jordan's King Abdullah, Bahrain's King Hamad and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, making his debut on the international stage.

Bush, meeting Abbas for the first time, is seeking support for the road map, the most far-reaching peace plan of Bush's 2 1/2 years in office, which outlines a series of reciprocal steps by Palestinians and Israelis leading to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

In a goodwill gesture, Israel began releasing dozens of Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday. But in a sign of the obstacles ahead, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian security man in the Gaza Strip and wounded five people in a sweep for militants in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Bush is to hold a landmark summit with Sharon and Abbas in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba. Bush had refused to meet veteran Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who still wields influence among Palestinians who see him as the leader of their struggle.

Abbas took office as the Palestinians' first prime minister in late April. He has been an outspoken opponent of the Palestinians' use of violence during the uprising for independence. Arafat remains Palestinian president.

Before arriving from the G-8 summit in France, Bush said Middle East peace would be a difficult undertaking but he would "put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace."