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White House Defends Use of Israeli Force


The Bush administration says Israel has the right to defend itself as Israeli troops launch a ground and air assault in the Gaza Strip in hopes of rescuing a soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants Sunday.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow says Israel has the right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens.

"In any actions the government of Israel may undertake, the United States urges that it ensures that innocent civilians are not harmed and also that it avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure. All parties ought to take every measure to restore the security situation in Gaza," Snow said.

Asked if Israeli airstrikes on bridges and electrical power stations satisfy U.S. calls not to damage infrastructure, Snow said he would not comment further.

Israeli military officials say the airstrikes are aimed at intimidating militants and preventing them from moving the kidnapped soldier.

Snow called on the Islamic militant group Hamas to release their captive and restore security through the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

"Hamas should release and return the kidnapped Israeli soldier immediately," he said. "It is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to stop all acts of violence and terror. Hamas has done the opposite. It has been complicit in perpetrating violence, terror and hostage-taking."

Snow says Washington will not formally recognize the Hamas government unless it stops all violence, recognizes Israel's right to exist and abides by previous agreements between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the military action is not aimed at re-occupying Gaza. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, whose party was defeated by Hamas, has denounced the Israeli offensive. Palestinian lawmakers say they are trying to secure the kidnapped soldier's release.

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