The White House on Monday blamed Hamas for causing the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians that has killed dozens and put a halt to peace talks. "The Palestinians have a choice to make," Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for President George W. Bush's National Security Council, told reporters traveling with the president back to Washington. "It's a choice between terrorism or a choice between a political solution that leads to a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel" IDF troops on Monday completed their first extended sweep in a new offensive against Palestinian rocket squads in the Gaza Strip that have been targeting southern Israel. The days of fighting killed dozens and led Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to call off peace talks, just as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to the region for a week-long trip aimed at jump-starting negotiation. The Israeli offensive has drawn a chorus of international condemnation, with the EU, Turkey and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon accusing Israel of using excessive force. But Johndroe said it is Hamas that is to blame, by inciting the developments when it fired rockets into Israeli cities. Johndroe would not say whether the United States thought Israel was using excessive force. "We obviously don't want innocent civilians to lose their life," he said. "But I think that started with these rockets that have been fired from Gaza into Israel recently killing and injuring Israeli citizens in some of their bigger cities." He said Rice would talk to Abbas about his decision to suspend talks because of the violence. "The number one thing that has to happen is that Hamas has got to stop targeting Israeli citizens with rockets. It must stop," he said. He said despite the fighting the US would continue to pursue its objective of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of the year. "We are going to keep after it. ... Keep on pursing it," he said.