The United States has joined other powers in the international Middle East Quartet in urging an immediate Gaza Strip cease-fire. The Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations - discussed the crisis on Tuesday in a ministerial-level telephone conference call.
The Bush administration had resisted joining calls for an immediate cease-fire, with officials saying they did not want a hasty agreement that would bring about a repeat of the previous truce that Hamas frequently violated and which fell apart earlier this month.
But officials here say U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined her Quartet partners in the immediate cease-fire appeal because the four powers also stipulated that it be "fully respected" by both Hamas and Israel.
The telephone conference involving Rice, U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and others, highlighted a day of intense diplomacy aimed at restoring peace to Gaza.
A State Department spokesman said the Quartet members called on all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza, and take necessary measures to insure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies.
They also agreed on the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to continue on the road to peace and agreed to remain in close touch, though the spokesman said there were no immediate plans for a face-to-face Quartet meeting.
Earlier in Crawford, Texas, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said a ceasefire in name only - that breaks down in hours or days - serves no one's interest.
"We have got to get a commitment from Hamas that they would respect any crease-fire and make it lasting and durable," said Johndroe. "And so, until we can get that assurance - not the United States, but until Israel can get that assurance from Hamas - then we're not going to have a cease-fire that is worth the paper it's written on."
Johndroe said President Bush, who is spending the holidays at home in Texas, got a video briefing on the Gaza situation from his national security team Tuesday and spoke by telephone with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the two top leaders of the Palestinian Authority - President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Prime Minister Fayyad thanked Mr. Bush for an $85 million commitment of new U.S. humanitarian aid to Palestinians announced earlier in the day.
Although it rejects dealings with Hamas, which is listed by the State Department as a terrorist group, the United States has continued providing food, medicine and other supplies to Gaza Palestinians through the United Nations and other third parties.
Johndroe said Mr. Bush expressed appreciation to President Mubarak for Egypt's leadership and positive role in the current crisis. Egypt has contacts with both Hamas and Israel, and helped broker the previous six-month truce which expired earlier this month and which Hamas refused to renew.