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Rice blames Hamas for violence in Gaza
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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday condemned Hamas for breaking cease-fire with Israel and leaving more than 200 dead in renewed violence in Gaza.

"The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza," said Rice in a statement.

"The cease-fire should be restored immediately," she added. "The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."

Earlier in the day, the U.S. State Department also urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties when it launched reprisal strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, and said that the Islamist movement must stop its rocket attacks.

"The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a brief statement.

"Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people," Johndroe added.

The spokesman made the remarks hours after Israel's airstrike at the Hamas-ruled enclave in retaliation for the continuing artillery firing by Hamas at southern Israel.

At least 225 people in the besieged enclave were killed in the wave of Israeli air strikes and Israeli military said that it was ready to intensify its operations against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip as long as it is necessary.

The White House said that U.S. President George W. Bush, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for Christmas vacation, has discussed the Middle East situation with Rice and received briefing on the Israeli air strikes from his national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

The president also talked over the phone to Saudi King Abdullah on "the Middle East," said Johndroe without providing further information.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who is in Hawaii for his holiday, is also "closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza," said his spokesperson on national security Brooke Anderson.

(Xinhua News Agency December 28, 2008)

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