Bush Condemns Hamas in Radio Address

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 2, 2009; 7:15 PM

President Bush issued a sharp condemnation of Hamas late today, accusing the Palestinian militant group of provoking Israeli military action with rocket attacks and increasing the death toll by secreting its arms within civilian populations.

In his weekly radio address, to be broadcast Saturday morning, Bush also said he would not support "another one-way ceasefire," and he called for a strict monitoring system to curtail weapons smuggling into Gaza. A transcript of the address was released a day ahead of broadcast.

"This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction," Bush said. He also referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules the West Bank, as "the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people."

"I urge all parties to pressure Hamas to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace," he said.

The address marked Bush's first public comments on the conflict since Israel began targeting Hamas positions with airstrikes on Saturday.

Bush has generally supported Israeli military actions during his eight years in office while strongly condemning Hamas, Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli groups that are considered terrorists by the U.S. government. At the same time, he vowed to finalize a Middle East peace plan by the time he left office -- a pledge that was abandoned even before the latest violence.

Bush said in his address that he has been in contact with leaders throughout the region, including Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He also said he would continue to keep President-elect Barack Obama informed, and said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "is actively engaged in diplomacy" aimed at achieving "a meaningful ceasefire that is fully respected."

Bush's criticism of Hamas was focused largely on allegations that the group endangers innocent Palestinians, using civilian areas to hide in and focusing scant resources on weapons. Bush also said he was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and pledged to increase U.S. assistance.

"Since Hamas's violent takeover in the summer of 2007, living conditions have worsened for Palestinians in Gaza," Bush said. "By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people."

The Islamic militant group won parliamentary elections in Gaza in 2006, then seized control of the isolated area by expelling forces loyal to Abbas, who is considered a moderate. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.

The flare-up of violence in Gaza this week underscored the difficulties that the Bush administration has faced in attempting to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians. The latest effort was launched by Bush, Abbas and Olmert during a November 2007 peace conference in Annapolis but has shown little progress. Hamas is excluded from the talks because it is labeled a terrorist group by the United States.

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