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US Seeks Gaza Cease-Fire But No Return to 'Status Quo' of Hamas Attacks

The Bush administration said Friday it wants to see a Gaza cease-fire as soon as possible but not a return to the previous truce arrangement violated by Hamas. U.S. officials denied giving Israel a "green light" for continued air attacks in Gaza.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has reiterated U.S. support for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza conflict. But she said the Bush administration does not want to see a return to the situation of last month, when an Egyptian-mediated truce was routinely broken by Hamas rocket fire into Israel.

Rice's comments to reporters at the White House, after a briefing for President Bush, were the first by a senior administration figure since Israel began its air campaign in Gaza December 27 and she put blame for the crisis squarely on Hamas.

Rice said the militant Islamic faction has held the Gaza strip hostage since illegally seizing power there, and used the coastal strip as a "launch pad" against Israel - deeply contributing to Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

Rice said the United States is continuing a diplomatic drive to end the Gaza hostilities but made clear the Bush administration is not interested in a new cease-fire deal that would fall apart like its predecessor.

"We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible. But we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable," she said.

Rice said she has been in constant contact with key Arab states, Israel, and with European allies to find a solution to the Gaza situation, but said under questioning she had no plans at this point to go to the Middle East.

The State Department said Rice spent much of New Year's day in telephone contacts with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Foreign Ministers of Britain, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates..

She continued the effort Friday with calls to, among others, the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic Karel Schwarzenberg, whose government has just taken over the European Union's rotating presidency and is organizing a joint EU peacemaking mission to the region.

U.S. diplomats are also engaged on Gaza in the U.N. Security Council, where Libya has presented a draft resolution from the Arab League which calls for an immediate cease-fire while condemning Israel for using disproportionate force.

The measure does not mention Hamas rocketing of Israel and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad said it is unbalanced and unacceptable in its current form.