Bush, Rice blame Hamas's Kassams

Both back military initiative, call for cease-fire that will stop rockets.

rice speaks to press 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
rice speaks to press 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush harshly condemned Hamas and offered no criticism of Israel's Gaza offensive in his first public comments on Operation Cast Lead, made during his Saturday radio address. Bush also called for a "meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," saying that "another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable." His comments fell short of growing international demands for an immediate cessation of military activity. Bush blamed Hamas for the hostilities, declaring, "This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas - a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction." He then explained Israel's attacks on Gaza as a response to Hamas rocket fire, adding that, "as a part of their strategy, Hamas terrorists often hide within the civilian population, which puts innocent Palestinians at risk." He expressed regret for those Palestinian civilians killed and repeated an earlier pledge the US had made of $85 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to help alleviate a humanitarian crisis there. "America's objectives in the Middle East will remain clear," he concluded. "We seek security and peace for our allies, the free people of Israel. For the Palestinian people, we seek a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state that serves its citizens and respects its neighbors." On Friday, the White House had said that the decision of whether to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip would be Israel's to make. "Those will be decisions made by the Israelis," said White House deputy spokesman Gordon Johndroe when asked about the possibility of IDF ground forces entering the Hamas-controlled territory. The White House also strongly backed Israel's latter's actions despite growing international criticism. Though many Arab and European leaders have criticized Israel for using disproportionate force as the Palestinian dead count topped 400, with more than a quarter of the casualties estimated to be civilians, Johndroe refused to characterize Israel's attacks that way. "Israel took this action because Hamas is firing hundreds and hundreds of rockets into southern Israel," he said. "So clearly, what Israel is trying to do is deal with Hamas in a way that gets them to stop firing rockets on their people." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also articulated strong support for Israel Friday and said that while the US would like to see a cease-fire, it must be one which doesn't simply lead to further violence. "We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza," she said. "It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable." Rice was speaking after briefing the president on the situation. He had several conversations with regional leaders last week, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while Rice worked the phones throughout the New Year's holiday with her international counterparts and spoke to Olmert twice on Thursday. She said that she has no plans to visit the region. She began her remarks by referring to Hamas's culpability in the current situation. "Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address," she said. "Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life." American public opinion was more divided, though, on whom to hold accountable and whether Israel's military campaign was advisable. A Rasmussen survey released last week found that 13 percent of Americans think Israel is responsible for the current situation in Gaza, with 55% blaming the Palestinians and 32% unsure. Additionally, 44% say Israel should have taken military action against the Palestinians, but 41% say it should have tried to find a diplomatic solution to the problems there, with 15% undecided. The breakdown along party lines found that 62% of Republicans back Israel's decision to take military action against the Palestinians, twice the number of Democrats (31%). A majority of the latter, 55%, say Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution first, a view shared by just 27% of Republicans. While 75% of Republicans say Israel is an ally of the United States, just 55% of Democrats agree. On average, 63% of American see Israel is as an ally of the United States, with 3% characterizing it as an enemy and 27% placing it somewhere in between. Seven percent are undecided. According to the survey, just over half of all Americans, or 51%, fear Israel's actions will cause more terrorism against the United States. The poll was conducted among 1,000 adult Americans on Tuesday with a three percent margin of error.