White House: Hamas must cease rocket fire as first step to truce
Protesters defy cold in Michigan town, 'heart of Arab America'; Netanyahu defends gov't in int'l media.
President George W. Bush believes the militant group Hamas needs to stop firing rockets at Israel as a first step to a cease-fire, the White House said on Wednesday, following the outgoing leader's talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets and that is what will be the first steps in a ceasefire," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Texas where Bush was on holiday.
"We want to see a cease-fire that's durable and lasting and the most important thing is that Hamas respect it. They had a cease-fire until about Dec. 19 ... but then they failed to renew the cease-fire and substantially increase the level that forced the Israelis to live in bomb shelters," Johnroe said. "The onus is on Hamas."
He added that officials are seeing a good flow of medical and food supplies into Gaza, addressing a concern that Bush raised earlier.
Johndroe would not say directly whether Bush had discussed with Olmert the idea of a cease-fire He did say that both Bush and Olmert realize that an end to violence will come when Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel.
"Hamas hopefully realizes that they're in a situation that is not helpful to their own people," he said. "That situation will not lead to a viable Palestinian state."
Asked if Bush's ability to influence events in the region is suffering because he has only three weeks left in office, Johndroe said: "One thing that's clear is that he's established relationships that allow him to pick up the phone, give these leaders a call and have very open and frank discussions."
During the phone call with Olmert, Bush received assurances that Israel was only targeting Hamas and working to minimize civilian casualties, Johndroe said. The two did not discuss a timetable for halting Israeli air strikes on Gaza, Johnroe said.
Meanwhile, close to 1,000 Arab-Americans and others marched through the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Tuesday evening, waving Palestinian flags and shouting slogans to protest Israeli military strikes against the Gaza Strip.
Protesters braving freezing weather filled eight blocks of a major thoroughfare in Dearborn, widely seen as the heart of Arab America. Hundreds more gathered in New York City outside the Israeli consulate.
Since Saturday, 374 Palestinians have died in the Israeli air onslaught against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers. Most of the dead were members of Hamas security forces but the United Nations says at least 64 civilians have been killed.
The offensive came shortly after a rocky six-month truce expired. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel before and during the Israeli offensive.
Marchers in Dearborn waved flags and carried signs condemning Israel and showing pictures of casualties of the fighting. One group of protesters carried a mock coffin decorated with pictures of dead and injured children and labeled U.S. Tax Dollars at Work and Victims of Zionism.
Some marchers chanted in English, "Gaza, Gaza don't cry, Palestine will never die" and "Israel is a terrorist state."
Others chanted, in Arabic, "God is Great" and "a martyr is beloved of God."
One protester carried a sign saying "Dearborn, take your shoes off!" a reference to the action of an Iraqi protester who threw shoes at President George W. Bush during his recent visit to Iraq.
Southeastern Michigan is home to around 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world, the result of more than a century of immigration.
Outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan, protesters Tuesday waved Palestinian flags and chanted Free Palestine.
Demonstrator Dalia Mahmoud said she was shocked at Israel's actions and that it was punishing an entire population for the actions of a few.
Police barricades separated the protesters from a smaller pro-Israel rally across the street, where one demonstrator carried a sign reading Israel must defend itself.
A few kilometers south at City Hall, Israeli Consul General Asaf Shariv met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, displaying for reporters an exploded rocket that killed an Israeli woman out for a walk.
"We are obligated to defend our people, and that is what we are doing," Shariv said.
Bloomberg voiced his support.
"I can only think what would happen in this country if somebody was lobbing missiles onto our shores or across the border," he said.
About 50 people gathered Tuesday on the University of Michigan-Flint campus to protest the Israeli attacks, The Flint Journal reported.
The Dearborn protest was organized by the Congress of Arab American Organizations. Group spokesman Osama Siblani, who is also publisher of the Arab American News, said it was the first in a series of actions being planned in response to the Gaza fighting, including a candlelight vigil for peace and a petition calling for a cease-fire.
"There is disappointment and anger in our community and we need to express it toward the current U.S. administration that has given a blank check to the Israelis," Siblani said.
A memorial service for victims of the fighting scheduled for Tuesday was delayed because the reception hall could not fit all the protesters.
Netanyahu to int'l community: Don't criticize Israel's acts of self-defense
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accepted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request to speak to the international media in support of Israel's operation in Gaza.
Netanyahu, the head of the Opposition, gave at least 15 interviews on Tuesday, although he said he found it difficult to defend the government.
"Right now we are a united people," he said. "In this case there is no difference between the opposition and the coalition."
He called upon the international community "to show support for Israel's acts of self-defense." Criticizing Israel might "legitimize the use of unjustified measures, like assaults on civilians or using civilians as human shields, which might in turn backfire against the countries currently criticizing Israel," he said.
Netanyahu told Reuters news agency that Israel should seek to remove the Hamas government in Gaza, "because ultimately, if we don't do it, then Hamas will rearm itself."
"I think we want to make sure that the firing of rockets stops, but also that the capability to fire future rockets is also stopped," he added.
Netanyahu also said that if he is elected prime minister in the coming election, removing the Hamas administration will be a key goal of his government, and that he would go about it "with all the means necessary to achieve it."