CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday called Palestinian and Egyptian leaders about the crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza after four days of Israeli air strikes, and emphasized the need for a lasting ceasefire, the White House said.
It was the first time that Bush had spoken with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad since Israel started bombarding Gaza on Saturday. Abbas’ Fatah faction is a rival to the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas.
“President Bush and the two Palestinian leaders discussed their efforts for a sustainable ceasefire. They agreed that for any ceasefire to be effective, it must be respected, particularly by Hamas,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
The Bush administration, with three weeks left in office, has backed Israeli actions to target Hamas and has not called for a stop to the four days of air strikes that have killed more than 350 Palestinians.
President-elect Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, has not commented on the Gaza violence and will add increased Middle East tensions to a list of foreign policy problems his administration will face when it comes into office January 20.
A small group of placard-waving pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near Obama’s holiday home on Tuesday to protest against the Israeli air strikes.
Bush, on vacation at his Texas ranch, also called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to thank him for “the positive role” that Egypt is playing, Johndroe said.
The attacks on Gaza have angered the Arab world, and Mubarak on Tuesday said Israel had “bloodstained hands” over its “savage aggression.” He also said Hamas was partly to blame for rejecting a truce with Israel.
Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Abbas’ aide Nabil Aburdaineh as saying Abbas “urged President Bush and the American administration to find a political solution quickly to the dangerous situation in the Gaza strip.”
Israel warned that its military action could last weeks, while Hamas vowed to keep up rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Both sides rejected any notion of a ceasefire soon.
“We have got to get a commitment from Hamas that they would respect any ceasefire and make it lasting and durable,” Johndroe said.
The United States accuses Hamas of provoking Israel by firing a barrage of rockets and declaring a 6-month-old truce dead on December 19.
“We don’t want a ceasefire agreement that isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on. We want something that’s lasting and, most importantly, respected by Hamas,” Johndroe said.
Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordanians, and others are in touch with Hamas and “as they have been in the past, are committed to assisting with the current situation,” he said.
To address a worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, the United States announced it would give $85 million to the U.N. agency providing aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The funds would pay for urgently needed food, medicines and other humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees, the State Department said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and participated in consultations with foreign ministers from the quartet of Middle East peace brokers.
Additional reporting by Sue Pleming and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Ross Colvin in Hawaii; Editing by Vicki Allen