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White House demands end to violence in Mideast

White House demands end to violence in Mideast

The Bush administration pleaded once more Tuesday for an end to the new flare up in violence in the Mideast, demanding that Hamas "stop firing rockets into Israel."
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, released a statement from President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, saying the United States wants to see a lasting peace in the region and the administration is trying to help bring it about.
He said that bringing an end to the new wave of violence _ which has caused hundreds of deaths and injuries _ hangs on the willingness of Hamas to "agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire."
Johndroe had said earlier that Bush spoke on the phone from his ranch with national security adviser Stephen Hadley to receive an update on the situation and was being kept abreast of developments. He added that Bush was to receive an intelligence briefing via a secured video hookup at the ranch early Monday and would be briefed then on any overnight developments.
Amid plans by the administration to say more at a midday briefing in Texas, President-elect Barack Obama's transition team was choosing its words carefully.
The current administration has blamed the renewed violence on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, saying it broke a cease-fire by firing rockets and mortars deep into Israeli territory.
But it's unclear whether Obama will be as supportive of Israel as President George W. Bush has been.
The deaths of hundreds of Palestinians in Israel's deadly air assault on the militant Islamic group has brought vocal criticism from the Arab world, and the renewed violence will further complicate Obama's challenge to achieve a Middle East peace _ something that eluded both the Bush and Clinton administrations.
David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, said the president-elect would honor the "important bond" between the United States and Israel.
"He wants to be a constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want and deserve," Axelrod said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Pressed about how much support Obama will offer Israel, Axelrod said: "He's going to work closely with the Israelis. They're a great ally of ours, the most important ally in the region. ... But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that _ toward that objective."
Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, speculated that Israeli leaders synchronized their retaliatory attacks to political calendars in both Israel and the U.S. More moderate politicians running in the Feb. 10 national election needed to appear strong against Hamas, and it was perhaps better to strike before Bush left office on Jan. 20 because they weren't as sure about what Obama's reaction would be.
"I think Obama will be supportive of Israel, but will bring a little more skepticism to it," Alterman said. "I think Obama will start from premise that Israel is an ally, but that we have to look at this fresh."
According to an aide on Obama's transition team, the president-elect, who is in Hawaii, continues to closely monitor global events, including the situation in Gaza. He had an intelligence briefing Sunday and plans to talk with his incoming national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his nominee for secretary of state.
The aide said Obama appreciates the information the Bush administration is sharing with him. The aide requested anonymity because the Obama team is refraining from comment, saying the U.S. has only one president at a time.
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Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel in Gaza City and Philip Elliott in Honolulu contributed to this report.