- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The White House on Wednesday continued to blame Hamas for the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip, and stepped up its rhetoric accusing Iran and Syria of supplying the Palestinian militant group with weaponry.

“There is no doubt that Iran and Syria are the ones who have assisted Hamas with their weapons acquisition, and that’s a problem,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, briefing reporters at President Bush’s Texas ranch.

Mr. Bush spoke by phone Wednesday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss the possibility of a cease-fire, as Israel continued its air strikes into the Gaza Strip for the fifth consecutive day.

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The death toll in the attacks is reported by Israeli media outlets to be nearing 400 Palestinians. Reports cite the United Nations as saying there have been upwards of 60 civilians killed among that number.

Mr. Olmert told Mr. Bush that Israeli military forces are “taking appropriate steps to avoid civilian casualties,” Mr. Johndroe said.

“That was something the president asked for assurance on,” he said.

But as for the possibility of a cease-fire, the Bush administration continued to insist that Hamas needed to stop firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel.

“President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets, and that is what will be the first steps in a ceasefire,” Mr. Johndroe said.

Mr. Bush does not believe that a temporary ceasefire would be effective unless it appeared likely to prohibit Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli civilian areas in the future.

“The onus is on Hamas,” Mr. Johndroe said.

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