Robert Pear
The New York Times
December 28, 2008 - 1:00am

CRAWFORD, Tex. — As world leaders called on Saturday for an end to the Middle East violence, the Bush administration issued blistering criticism of Hamas, saying the group had provoked Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza by firing rockets into southern Israel.

Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said that Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, was responsible for the outbreak of violence and called its rocket attacks ”completely unacceptable. These people are nothing but thugs,” he said. “Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement that said: “The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The cease-fire should be restored immediately. The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”

An aide to President-elect Barack Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, said he had discussed events in Gaza with Ms. Rice in an eight-minute telephone call initiated by Mr. Obama.

Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, said that while Mr. Obama was monitoring global events, “There is one president at a time.”

In the campaign, Mr. Obama made statements that sounded similar to those issued by the Bush administration on Saturday.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Mr. Obama said in July. “And I wouldexpect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Mr. Johndroe said that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called Mr. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Saturday, and they discussed the situation.

Asked whether the United States had given any green light for the airstrikes by Israel, Mr. Johndroe said: “The Israeli cabinet authorized this a few days ago, as you’re all aware. So we were aware of that authorization by the Israeli cabinet.” He added: “Hamas has done nothing for the people of Gaza. They need to stop. They have a choice to make. You can’t have one foot in politics and one foot in terror.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was one of many world leaders calling for an immediate halt to the rocket attacks on Israel and to the Israeli airstrikes.

He condemned “the irresponsible provocations that led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force.”


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