The White House blamed ongoing Hamas rocket fire for the massive Israeli air strikes that have killed at least 228 Palestinians, contrasting sharply with the nearly universal condemnation the offensive has met in other countries around the world.
AFP - The United States said that massive Israeli air strikes Saturday on the Gaza Strip were the fault of Islamist Hamas "thugs," as rival world powers urged both sides to halt escalating violence.
Outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement that the US "holds Hamas responsible," whereas the European Union, Russia and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon distanced themselves from blaming either side.
As global reaction began to polarise, Israel's strongest ally accused Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, of bringing destruction upon itself by breaking a six-month ceasefire which expired on December 19.
"These people are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at George W. Bush's Texas ranch.
"If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," Johndroe said. "What we've got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel.
"The United States holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire; we want the ceasefire restored. We're concerned about the humanitarian situation and want all parties concerned to work to make sure the people of Gaza get the humanitarian assistance they need," said Johndroe.
The State Department amended Rice's initial statement about holding Hamas responsible to say "we" rather than the United States, adding that "the United States calls on all concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza."
At least 225 Palestinians have been killed, according to the head of Gaza emergency services. Another three people were reported killed later, taking the toll to at least 228.
In the Middle East, the Arab League singled out Israel for blame, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference accused it of a "war crime" for not protecting the lives of civilians.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair deplored the "tragic of loss of life," and urged a "new strategy for Gaza, which brings that territory back under the legitimate rule of the Palestinian Authority in a manner which ends their suffering and fully protects the security of Israel."
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he "strongly condemns the irresponsible provocations which led to this situation as well as the disproportionate use of force."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana meanwhile said the Israeli strikes were "inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians and will only worsen the humanitarian crisis as well as complicate the search for a peaceful solution."
The EU also called for all crossing points out of Gaza to be reopened and deliveries of aid and fuel to resume, along with free access for international humanitarian groups, journalists and diplomats, which Israel has blocked.
While Ban expressed his alarm at the "bloodshed," Hamas said Saturday it had retaliated with more rockets which Israeli medics said killed at least one person in the southern town of Netivot.
Demonstrations condemning Israel's strikes on Hamas targets took place from Istanbul to Paris and in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
Russia's foreign ministry called on Israel "to halt immediately the large-scale acts of force against the Gaza Strip" while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Hamas to "immediately and definitively end its unacceptable rocket attacks against Israel," according to Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Gaza, adding he understood "the Israel government's sense of obligation to its population."
The Arab League will hold an extraordinary summit in Doha on January 2 to discuss the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence, diplomats said. Arab foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday, ahead of the summit.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi called for "urgent action" during a telephone conversation with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, state news agency TAP reported.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi government said it would take part in the Arab League meeting and condemned the Israeli strikes for leaving behind "many victims -- innocent people and children."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in a statement that "Egypt condemns the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip and blames Israel, as an occupying force, for the victims and the wounded."
He ordered the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza to be opened for wounded Palestinians to be evacuated "so they can receive the necessary treatment in Egyptian hospitals."
In Amman the royal palace said King Abdullah of Jordan had been in touch with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and with Mubarak to "launch an Arab and international initiative aimed at ending the Israeli aggression."
From Turkey, a Muslim country that has been an ally of Israel in the region, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Israeli military operation was a mark of "disrespect" for Ankara's efforts to negotiate peace for Israel with its longtime foe Syria.
Syria in turn condemned "the barbaric Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza," the foreign ministry said.
Date created : 2008-12-28