George W Bush said yesterday the United States is pushing diplomatic efforts towards a "meaningful ceasefire" in Gaza, one that must include as a condition the permanent halting of rocket attacks by Hamas and "monitoring mechanisms" in the coastal strip. "Another one-way ceasefire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable," the US president said in his weekly radio address on Friday, speaking for the first time to the more than week-old violence.
"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. I urge all parties to pressure Hamas to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace." Mr Bush said the recent outbreak of violence was instigated by Hamas, whose rocket fire across the border intentionally targeted innocent Israeli citizens and constitutes an "act of terror". He said the United States is "deeply concerned" over civilian casualties in Gaza - the United Nations has estimated that one quarter of the dead have been civilians since the Israeli air strikes began - but blamed Hamas for hiding within the civilian population as part of its strategy.
Mr Bush outlined US objectives in the region: "security and peace" for Israel and "a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state that serves its citizens and respects its neighbours". "For all in the region, we seek an end to terror," he said. "And we seek an enduring peace based on justice, dignity and human rights for every person in every nation of the Middle East." On Friday, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said Hamas had been holding Gazans "hostage" since taking control of the coastal strip in 2007.
"Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address," Ms Rice said. "But frankly, Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life." Ms Rice, who said she has no immediate plans to travel to the region, likewise did not call for an immediate ceasefire but a "durable and sustainable" one that would take effect as soon as possible.
"We are working toward a ceasefire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza," she said. "I have been in constant contact with the key Arab states. I have talked with our European colleagues, and we are talking constantly with the Israeli government to find a solution to Gaza that will be a sustainable one for the people of Gaza, for the people of Israel and for the people of the Palestinian territories of the Middle East more broadly."
The United States and Israel are reported to have discussed a ceasefire proposal that would provide for international monitors in Gaza. At the White House on Friday, Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Mr Bush, told reporters that Israel has a right to defend itself, but he declined to comment on a potential Israeli ground campaign and whether the United States would consider such a military move justified in the name of self-defence.
"Those will be decisions made by the Israelis," he said. "Any actions they take in this overall operation that they are involved in right now need to avoid civilian casualties, and we also need to continue the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza." Twenty-seven US citizens were aided by the US state department in leaving Gaza for Amman on Friday, part of a wave of departures by foreigners based on fears of a ground offensive.