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White House: Bush discusses Gaza with Olmert

President George W. Bush on Wednesday discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ways to "end the violence" in the Mideast, the White House said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President George W. Bush on Wednesday discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ways to "end the violence" in the Mideast, the White House said.

"They both discussed their mutual desire" for peace, presidential spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters. He said the president consulted by phone early Wednesday with the Israeli leader from Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. The call came amid new indications that Israel is not interested in the push by the United States, Europe and others for a two-day cease-fire.

Bush voiced concern about the strikes in Gaza and the attacks in Israel and also raised again his worries about civilian casualties in Gaza. Johndroe said that Olmert gave Bush assurances that Israel is focusing its attack on the Hamas leadership governing the Gaza Strip and that it is trying to limit civilian casualties.

Bush has been constantly monitoring the air strikes into the Gaza Strip, which Israel launched last Saturday in response to the rocket strikes directed at the Jewish state by the militant Hamas organization.

Asked specifically what concern the administration voiced about the violence of recent days, Johndroe said: "President Bush is disappointed that Hamas continues to fire rockets on the innocent people of Israel."

"President Bush wants to see an end to the violence. I know Prime Minister wants to see an end to the violence," the spokesman said. "We want to see a cease-fire that's durable and lasting and the most important thing is that Hamas respect it. They had a cease-fire until about Dec. 19 ... but then they failed to renew the cease-fire and substantially increased the level (of firing rockets) that forced the Israelis to live in bomb shelters."

"The onus is on Hamas," Johndroe said.

He added that officials are seeing "a good flow" of medical and food supplies into Gaza, addressing an additional administration concern.

Johndroe would not say directly whether Bush had discussed with Olmert the idea of a cease-fire.

He did say that both Bush and Olmert "realize that an end to violence will come when Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel."

"Hamas hopefully realizes that they're in a situation that is not helpful to their own people," he said. "That situation will not lead to a viable Palestinian state."

Asked if Bush's ability to influence events in the region is suffering because he has only three weeks left in office, Johndroe said: "One thing that's clear is that he's established relationships that allow him to pick up the phone, give these leaders a call and have very open and frank discussions."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued furious telephone diplomacy with officials in the region, pressing them on the need for a "durable and sustainable" ceasefire.

"The effort to bring about a ceasefire continues," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters. "We're not allowing any of the events that have happened to dissuade us in our efforts to bring about a ceasefire that is durable and sustainable."

Asked whether Rice was planning a trip to the region, Johndroe said in Crawford that he knew of no such plan.

Rice spoke Wednesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddine Al-Bashir, their third conversation since Tuesday, he said. Rice spoke three times on Tuesday with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates and once each with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Aboul Gheith, the foreign minister of Egypt, he said.

"We're looking for all our friends and allies in the region to use whatever good offices they have with Hamas or with other Palestinian organizations to try and help communicate the international community's desire that the violence stop," Duguid said.