WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush expressed optimism Wednesday about progress in the Middle East peace process a day after Israel and the Palestinians agreed to pull back forces.
Bush said last week's terrorist attacks on the United States may be playing a role in current efforts toward observing a truce in the Mideast.
"I felt like this event may shake up the attitudes of the Middle East," he said. "... People are resolving to show the world there can be peace there as well."
On Tuesday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced a unilateral cease-fire and Israel, in response, halted all offensive military operations.
Bush called Arafat's actions very positive and encouraged the leader to back up his order.
"I would hope that Chairman Arafat backs up his strong statement with action," Bush said. "We take his words very seriously -- that he is interested in doing everything he can to reduce terrorism and violence in the Middle East."
Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by phone Tuesday with Arafat as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Powell said Peres and Sharon confirmed they would do "everything on their side to disengage from the opportunities for conflict with the Palestinians in specific towns and cities."
The result, he said, will be a "sort of separation that might encourage a state of nonviolence."