Bush: Hamas key to cease-fire

CRAWFORD, Texas - President George W. Bush believes the first steps in any cease-fire in the ongoing violence in the Mideast will require the Islamic militant group Hamas to agree to stop firing rockets into Israel now and in the future, the White House said Wednesday.

From his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the first time since the conflict escalated between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

'I think President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets and that is what will be the first step in a cease-fire,' White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe told reporters covering the president's stay in Texas. Johndroe said that Hamas also needs to stop smuggling weapons into Gaza - a move that would show it doesn't intend to continue to target Israel.

'So I think they're certainly on the same page on that,' Johndroe said, briefing reporters on the Bush-Olmert phone call.

Israel so far has resisted mounting international pressure to suspend its devastating air offensive against militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza, which has enraged the Arab world. It sent more troops and tanks to the border as signs of an impending ground invasion multiplied.

The Israeli offensive, in its fifth day, is a response to rockets fired by Hamas militants, which are landing ominously close to the Israeli heartland.

On Tuesday, France urged Israel to halt its operation for 48 hours. Olmert discussed the idea with his defense and foreign ministers, but the trio decided to pursue the aerial campaign.

Calls for an immediate cease-fire that would be fully respected by Hamas have also come from the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued furious telephone diplomacy with officials in the region, pressing them on the need for a 'durable and sustainable' cease-fire.

'The effort to bring about a cease-fire continues,' State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters. 'We're not allowing any of the events that have happened to dissuade us in our efforts to bring about a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.'

Rice has said she plans a final diplomatic trip early next week to Beijing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of U.S-Chinese relations. U.S. officials say there will be other stops but have not disclosed them. Asked whether Rice's plans include Mideast shuttle diplomacy, Johndroe insisted he was 'not aware of any travel by the secretary at this point.'

Rice spoke Wednesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddine Al-Bashir, their third conversation since Tuesday, he said. Rice spoke three times on Tuesday with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates and once each with Olmert, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Aboul Gheith, the foreign minister of Egypt, he said.