WASHINGTON - From here the serious bombing in Jerusalem looks like a direct extension of Israel's abortive attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi on Tuesday.

The American administration is now less interested in Palestinian terrorism and more in the question of why Ariel Sharon broke his promise, as they see it, to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When Powell visited Israel last month, Sharon promised him not to carry out "targeted assassinations" as a punishment, but only in life threatening situations that could be called "ticking bombs."

Given that, the operation against Hamas in Gaza has captured the center of American attention and also continues the abortive Rantisi operation. At first no details from Israel reached the Americans about Rantisi's direct involvement in terror activities, and the reaction was slow to come.

Afterward they explained in Israel that Rantisi was on the list of assassination targets because he was a regular inciter of suicide bombings. If that was so, ask the Americans, why wasn't he hit in the past and why did Israel wait for this action until after the Aqaba summit?

Other voices in Washington said it is time to think of sending a Nato force to the Palestinian territories. This reflects a fear of a spate of terrorist activities more than anything else, but this is not the administration's view at this time.

Israel has not been directly charged with escalating events, and President George Bush's statement said only that he was troubled by the Israeli action. However, the question is why Sharon acted the way he did.

Does Tuesday's assassination attempt indicate his political weakness, or his attempt to prevent a cease-fire (hudna) between Abu Mazen and Hamas, and create a situation in which Abu Mazen is finally forced to use force against the Islamic organizations?

American sources believe Israel does not understand that after the Aqaba summit, new circumstances have been created. Sharon's Palestinian partner Abu Mazen is weak, and has now been weakened further.

Abu Mazen is still not prepared to assume responsibility for security, but the administration thinks he should be shown consideration in view of current circumstances, which have become more difficult after the terrorist acts and the Israeli reaction.

The administration is not about to give up and intends to renew the talks with each side, especially with Sharon, about what is permitted and what is forbidden in the war against terror at such a sensitive time. The intention is to send the head of the American coordination team, John Wolf, next week for talks in Israel.

However, nobody is sure how things will proceed in the next few days that remain before the American envoy arrives in Israel.