- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused the militant Hamas organization of holding the people of Gaza hostage Friday and said the United States continues to seek a “durable and sustainable” cease-fire.

Speaking to reporters in the White House driveway after a meeting with President George W. Bush, Rice also said that the United States remains “very concerned about the situation there and is working very hard with our partners around the world.”

But she reiterated the Bush administration argument that any cease-fire in fighting that is now into its seventh day must hinge on the willingness of Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. Rice also said she has no current plans to travel to the region.

“Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of (Palestinian Authority) President Mahmoud Abbas,” she said. Rice also charged that Hamas “has used Gaza as a launching pad” for firing rockets into the Jewish state and that, as a result, the Palestinians living in Gaza have had “a very bad daily life.”

“We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas could launch rockets,” Rice said. “It’s obvious that a cease-fire should take place as soon as possible but we want a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.”

The secretary said the United States has been in “constant contact” with all the parties in the region — and with leaders of other nations and organizations — to try to bring an end to the violence.

She said she is looking for a solution “that will be a sustainable” for Israel, the people of Gaza and of the Middle East.

Bush returned to Washington on Thursday afternoon from a holiday stay at his Texas ranch. Both he and Rice have been telephoning a host of world leaders in recent days in the wake of new hostilities between Israel and the Hamas organization that rules Gaza.

The administration has been immersed in a flurry of diplomacy in the days since Israel retaliated last Saturday against rocket-firing by the Hamas organization. Bush made a host of calls from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, including contacts with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas and others. Rice kept in touch with her counterparts from Washington.

Earlier Friday, Israel bombed a mosque that it said was used to store weapons and destroyed the homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives. This came the day after an airstrike killed a prominent Hamas figure.

The Israeli offensive of the past week has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas, but has failed to halt the rocket fire. New attacks Friday struck apartment buildings in a southern Israeli city. No serious injuries were reported.

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