Bush: Israel has right to protect itself
US President George Bush says he understands 'Israel's desire to protect itself' against Hamas, adds he is still hopeful for peace deal, but says this won't work unless Hamas stops attacks. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to pursue truce agreement
Israel has moved tanks and troops into Gaza to target Hamas militants. From the Oval Office, Bush said Monday that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas.
The president says he is still hopeful there will be a cease-ire, which he describes as a noble ambition. But he says no peace deal will work unless it forces Hamas to stop its attacks.
The Bush administration is pressing for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that would include three main elements, including a halt to Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel, the State Department said Monday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held telephone conversations with numerous foreign leaders in pursuit of such a ceasefire agreement, her chief spokesman, Sean McCormack said, adding that much detailed work remains to be done.
"We're doing a lot of work on these three elements," McCormack said, adding that the goal is to establish a halt to the violence that would meet Rice's standard of being durable and sustainable.
In addition to halting the rocket fire from Gaza, the proposed ceasefire would include an arrangement for reopening crossing points on the border with Israel, McCormack said.
The third element, which he mentioned only in general terms, would entail addressing the issue of tunnels into Gaza from Egypt through which Hamas has smuggled a variety of materials, including arms.
The State Department has withheld direct comment on the Israel ground thrust into Gaza, which began Saturday. Pressed for comment Monday, McCormack said, "Every sovereign state has to decide for itself how best to defend itself." He also reiterated the administration's concern about the conflict's impact on civilians.
The Gaza crisis prompted Rice to cancel a long-planned trip to China this week. Rice has been making a stream of phone calls to allies in the Mideast and Europe in hopes of fostering a ceasefire in Gaza, but McCormack said Monday that she has no current plans to visit the Mideast as part of that effort.
Israel's weeklong aerial bombardment of Gaza and the start of the ground offensive Saturday against Hamas have drawn condemnation across the Muslim and Arab world and news coverage of the invasion has dominated Arab satellite television stations.
McCormack said Rice last spoke to her designated successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, about the Gaza situation last Thursday.