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US/ Middle East

White House leaves decision to invade Gaza in hands of Tel Aviv

Article published on the 2009-01-03 Latest update 2009-01-03 10:47 TU

Israeli tanks lined up just outside the central Gaza Strip(Credit: Reuters)

Israeli tanks lined up just outside the central Gaza Strip
(Credit: Reuters)

US President George W. Bush has blamed Hamas for the latest week-long violence in the Gaza Strip, and has called on the organisation to stop firing rockets at Israel as the Israeli military has carried out some 750 air strikes, and continues its assault on Saturday. Meanwhile, deaths of Palestinians have risen to at least 435, including 66 children, while 2,150 have been wounded.

When asked whether the Israelis would be justifed in launching a ground assault, White House deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said that "those will be decisions made by Israelis."

Israeli tanks and troops are waiting along the 60-kilometre border with Gaza, poised to enter the territory if given the go-ahead.

"The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meanful ceasefire that is fully respected," Bush will say in his weekly radio address, his first remarks since the conflict erupted one week ago. The White House released his text in advance of the broadcast.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated Bush's remarks, saying that Washington called for a "ceasefire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza."

Rice had had a number of consultations with world leaders earlier in the week, including Israeli, Russian, European Union officials and leaders of Arab countries. She had also spoken to President-elect Barack Obama over the past week. He is scheduled to take the reins in 18 days.

When asked however, if she had plans to travel to the Middle East to broker an end to the crisis, she said, "I have no plans at this point."

On the ground, thousands of protesters in Gaza and the West Bank gathered on the streets after Hamas called for a "day of wrath." Police threw tear gas at rock-throwing youth in East Jerusalem.

On the beginning of the second week of the offensive, the Israeli army has allowed some 400 foreign passport-holders to leave Gaza. In addition, 21 Filipino families living in Gaza will be evacuated this coming week, according to the Philippine ambassador to Israel, Petronila Garcia.

She added that Jordan has given permission for Filipinos living in Gaza to be moved there.