US blames Hamas for growing Mideast violence

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Jordanian trucks loaded with humanitarian aid and medical supplies crosses the Allenby Bridge check point at Shouneh, Jordan, which connects Jordan with the West bank, Monday, Dec. 29. 2008. The convoy of 16 trucks, loaded with 240 tons of food and medical supplies, is being donated to the people of Gaza.</span></div>
January 3, 2009 4:24:43 PM PST
The United States on Saturday blamed the more than week-old onslaught in the Gaza strip squarely on Hamas militants and avoided any criticism of Israel despite mounting world outrage over a death toll now topping 460 and growing. Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza on Saturday in its bid to stop the Hamas rocket attacks.

A State Department official said the U.S. is working toward a cease-fire but provided no details on how this can be accomplished because the U.S. does not talk to Hamas. Spokesman Sean McCormack said a cease-fire is needed that will not allow Hamas to continue firing rockets into Israel. The comments were made after Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza.

McCormack said "it's obvious the cease-fire should take place as soon as possible," but it has to be sustainable and cannot allow Hamas to continue to launch rockets out of Gaza.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled emergency consultations Saturday night to address the escalation of violence in Gaza, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged an immediate halt to Israel's ground operation.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said President Bush was briefed this afternoon on the situation in Gaza and said U.S. officials are in "regular contact with the Israelis as well as officials from countries in the region and Europe."

Asked if the U.S. was warned before the invasion, Johndroe did not answer that question, but said: "Their ground action is part of their overall operation. We continue to make clear to them our concerns for civilians, as well as the humanitarian situation."

A senior U.S. defense official in Washington said it appeared that the Israeli ground force that entered Gaza was perhaps several thousand strong. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said it appeared the objective of the ground assault was not just to deal with the current problem of rocket attacks into southern Israel but to seek longer-term security.

With time running out on the Bush presidency, the crisis in Gaza is likely to carry over to President-elect Barack Obama.

The escalation of fighting in Gaza comes as the Bush administration approaches its final two weeks in office, with Obama scheduled to become president on Jan. 20.

Israeli warplanes have rained bombs on Gaza, targeting the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has traumatized southern Israel with intensifying rocket attacks. More than 460 Palestinians and at least four Israelis have been killed. The U.N. estimated Friday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

President George W. Bush also spoke about the situation in Gaza during his weekly radio address.

Calling the Hamas attacks an "act of terror," Bush said the United States was "leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire."

"Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable," he said in the address, which was released Friday. "And promises from Hamas will not suffice - there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."

Before Saturday's movement of Israeli ground troops. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had briefed Bush on developments in Gaza and conducted telephone diplomacy in hopes of arranging a truce. Yet, she said she had no plans to make an emergency visit to the region.


Associated Press writers Bob Burns, Matthew Lee and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.