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US, G8 Partners Urge Israeli Restraint in Gaza Crisis

The United States and its partners at the G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Moscow appealed Thursday for Israeli restraint, as diplomatic efforts for the release for the Israeli soldier kidnapped in Gaza continue. The Bush administration is blaming Hamas for the crisis, but has expressed concern about Israel's roundup of Hamas political figures.

The Moscow meeting had been framed in advance as largely a strategy session in the international confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

But Israel's incursion into Gaza became a major agenda item, with the eight ministers issuing a joint call on Palestinians to secure the release of the kidnapped soldier, and for Israel to show restraint, and avoid harm to Palestinian civilians.

At a press appearance with her G-8 colleagues, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, while the current crisis began as a terrorist act, it is important that all parties act responsibly, so that civilians do not suffer and possibilities for peace in the region will be preserved.

"This crisis, of course, just underscores the need to have all Palestinian parties work on anti-terrorist activities," she said. "We also called on the Palestinian government and other parties to secure the release of the Israeli soldier, and we are also asking Israel to exercise restraint in this circumstance."

Officials here said Rice led U.S. diplomacy on the issue with telephone calls from Moscow Thursday to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has close ties with Palestinian leaders of various factions in Gaza.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli declined to give details of U.S. diplomatic contacts, and would not say, if U.S. appeals were a factor in an apparent Israeli decision Thursday to delay a planned ground invasion of northern Gaza.

Ereli did say the United States and its G-8 partners have particular concerns about Israel's detention in Gaza of more than 60 members of Hamas, including several legislators and government ministers.

But he made clear the Bush administration blames Hamas for the crisis, and said it sees no distinction between the organizations' political leadership in Gaza and the West Bank, and its military wing, which was said to have been behind the soldier's abduction.

"People try to make those distinctions, and talk about that nuance," said Ereli. "But, you know, the fact of the matter is that Hamas is Hamas is Hamas. And the leadership of Hamas, whether they're in Gaza, or whether they're in Damascus, or whether they're in the West Bank, has to answer for the actions of their members."

Ereli said the Syrian government has relations with Hamas elements, and, as such, is definitely a party to the current crisis and has a responsibility to help bring it to a conclusion.

The United States has long-pressed Syria to expel so-called rejectionist Palestinian elements from Damascus, where Hamas military chief Khaled Mashaal has been openly operating for several years.

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