Bush Blames Hamas for Starting Gaza Conflict

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 5, 2009; 12:40 PM

President Bush today called a cease-fire in Gaza a "noble" ambition but said that any agreement must ensure that Hamas is unable to continue to fire rockets into Israel.

Bush also blamed the Palestinian militant group for starting the fight by violating an earlier cease-fire between the two sides.

"I understand Israel's desire to protect itself and that the situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," Bush said after a White House meeting with a Sudanese official. "Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to launch rockets to kill innocent Israelis. And Israel has obviously decided to protect herself and her people."

Bush's remarks provided his first public reaction to the crisis since Israel's ground invasion of Gaza over the weekend, and come amid increased efforts by European leaders to negotiate a truce in the conflict. But Bush, whose administration describes Hamas as a terrorist group, indicated that he shared Israeli skepticism about international efforts to broker a halt to the fighting. "I know people are saying, 'Let's have a cease-fire,' " Bush said. "And those are noble ambitions. But any cease-fire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets."

Israeli warplanes today bombarded new Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip as Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed to press forward with military efforts to stop Hamas rocket attacks. The Israeli foreign minister also rejected a European proposal to install a monitoring team in Gaza to help maintain a cease-fire.

Bush said he remained "concerned" about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and pointed to U.S. relief efforts.

"We care about the people of Gaza and therefore have provided millions of dollars of fresh aid to the United Nations to help," Bush said, adding: "All of us, of course, would like to see, you know, violence stop, but not at the expense of an agreement that does not prevent the crisis from happening again."

The Bush administration has strongly supported Israel's military actions against Hamas since airstrikes began on Dec. 27, referring to the Palestinian group as a terrorist organization.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in Gaza in 2006 after Israel had relinquished control of the coastal strip, but then seized complete control by expelling forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank. Bush reiterated praise of Abbas today and said he was "still hopeful that someday there will be a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace."

"I believe the Palestinian Authority under . . . President Abbas has got the capacity and the foresight and the vision necessary to see that become a reality," he said. "In the meantime, all of us are going to have to deal with Hamas, those who threaten peace, those who want to deny the existence of a peaceful Palestinian state."

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