WH Blames Hamas for Violence

ABC News' Kirit Radia Reports from Crawford, Texas: In the White House's first press briefing since Israel began bombing Gaza over the weekend, spokesman Gordon Johndroe towed the same line we've heard from the administration in recent days, blaming Hamas for the outbreak of violence but at no time calling on Israel to stop its retaliation.

"Hamas has once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization that refuses to even recognize Israel's right to exist. In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire. That is the objective to which all parties need to be working.  And that is what the United States is working toward. We also remain concerned about the humanitarian situation for the people of Gaza. We ask that all parties involved to allow food and medical supplies to reach the people there. And we appreciate the efforts of a variety of countries in the region who are working to help the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza," Johndroe said.

"We have urged the Israelis to avoid civilian casualties, but they are working on decreasing the number of Israeli citizens that are vulnerable," he added.

President Bush has yet to inject himself into the situation since this latest round of fighting began, leaving it up to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak with the parties (though, consistent with longstanding policy, the U.S. has not spoken with Hamas). Instead Bush has spoken with regional intermediaries. On Saturday, he spoke with Saudi King Abdullah and then this morning with Jordanian King Abdullah.

In those discussions, Johndroe said the president told the kings, "we want to see the violence stop, but in a way that leads to a durable and sustainable succession of violence. We can't have the violence stop now only for it to start up again."

Rice, meanwhile, has spoken to several regional and world leaders about the fighting, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Noticeably absent from her list of calls, however, is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice has taken the time to brief the incoming administration on the situation. Since fighting broke out she has spoken with President-elect Barack Obama and his pick for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Johndroe said he did not expect Bush to speak publicly about the situation. "At this point, we don't have any plans for the president to -- to make a statement on this. We will continue to monitor the situation. I mean, he's staying in touch with the national security adviser, as well as the secretary of state, and we'll see," Johndroe said, adding: "Secretary Rice has been the primary interlocutor."

The president has received intelligence and situational updates and this morning discussed the matter via secure video conference with Vice President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and National Security Adviser Steve Hadley.

"They updated him on overnight developments in the Middle East and discussed U.S. actions," Johndroe said.

Asked if the U.S. is urging Israel to avoid a ground operation in Gaza, he replied: "I can't speak to any potential ground operation.  I think that any ground operation, according to the Israelis, would be part and parcel of the -- of the overall operation, given their statements saying that they don't want to retake Gaza, that they simply want to protect their people."

"I'm not going to speculate on a ground operation," he quickly added.

Asked if Israel's targets were justified, he replied: "The United States understands that Israel needs to take actions to defend itself."

Johndroe said the U.S. has not been involved in the planning or coordination of the Israeli offensive.

"The United States is not involved in this action in any -- in any specific way. The United States has provided millions of dollars of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and so we are certainly encouraging countries in the region to continue their efforts to bring medical and food supplies to the people of Gaza," he said.

So what is the president doing today?

"After his phone call with Abdullah and his intelligence briefing, he went to his office to work on paperwork and a variety of things. And I expect he'll probably ride his bicycle today and spend time with Mrs. Bush. And I expect he'll also probably receive updates on the ongoing situation in the Middle East, as well," Johndroe said.

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