US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Hamas of holding the people of Gaza hostage Friday and said the United States continues to seek a "durable and sustainable" cease-fire.
Speaking to reporters in the White House driveway after a meeting with President George W. Bush, Rice also said that the United States remains "very concerned about the situation there and is working very hard with our partners around the world."
But she reiterated the Bush administration argument that any cease-fire in fighting that is now into its seventh day must hinge on the willingness of Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. Rice also said she has no current plans to travel to the region.
"Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of (Palestinian Authority) President Mahmoud Abbas," she said. Rice also charged that Hamas "has used Gaza as a launching pad" for firing rockets into the Jewish state and that, as a result, the Palestinians living in Gaza have had "a very bad daily life."
"We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas could launch rockets," Rice said. "It's obvious that a cease-fire should take place as soon as possible but we want a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable."
The secretary said the United States has been in "constant contact" with all the parties in the region and with leaders of other nations and organizations to try to bring an end to the violence.
She said she is looking for a solution "that will be a sustainable" for Israel, the people of Gaza and of the Middle East.
Pre-empting a humanitarian crisis
White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe told reporters at a briefing later that "we want to make sure that there isn't a humanitarian crisis" in the region.
Asked if the United States would support any move by Israel to launch a ground attack into Gaza, Johndroe replied, "I don't want to speak to an operation that has not taken place, that may or may not take place."
But he did say that "what we have talked to the Israelis about is the need to be mindful that any of the actions that they're taking in Gaza avoid unnecessary civilian casualties and also help to control the flow of humanitarian aid."
Johndroe, however, also said flatly: "Israel had to take actions, and you're seeing that now."
Asked about prospects for arranging a cease-fire, he said: "We're not seeing Hamas stop its rocket attacks and, you know, that's something we're going to need to see them do."
Of the Israelis, he said: "They've signaled that this is not an operation that they're going to stop right now because they have to protect their people."
Bush returned to Washington on Thursday afternoon from his Texas ranch. Both he and Rice have been telephoning a host of world leaders in recent days in the wake of Israel's military operation in Gaza.