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US Wants Gaza Deal on Rockets, Tunnels, Crossing Points

The Bush administration said it is pushing for a Gaza agreement that will end Hamas rocket fire into Israel, arms smuggling through tunnels from Egypt, and re-open Gaza crossing points for relief supplies and commerce. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - who canceled foreign travel plans - is leading U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Officials here said that while the United States supports an end to the fighting as soon as possible, it also wants a cease-fire arrangement that will be more durable than its failed predecessor and deal with the core problems of Gaza.

The administration has drawn international criticism for, among other things, resisting Arab-led cease-fire efforts in the U.N. Security Council that urged an immediate end to the fighting, but which U.S. officials said failed to adequately address Hamas rocket firing.

At a White House photo session with Sudanese Vice President and southern Sudan regional leader Salva Kiir Mayardit, President Bush said a truce arrangement must stop Hamas rocket fire once and for all:

"All of us of course would like to see violence stop, but not at the expense of an agreement that does not prevent the crisis from happening again. I know people are saying: let us have a cease-fire, and those are noble ambitions. But any cease-fire must have conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets," he said.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack provided additional information on U.S. diplomatic aims.

He said in telephone diplomacy, Secretary Rice is seeking a three-pronged accord that would end Hamas rocket fire, deal with the tunnels from Egypt through which Hamas has been getting smuggled arms, and fully reopen Gaza crossings to address the dire humanitarian conditions in the strip and eventually restore normal economic life.

McCormack said a crossings accord would be based on the one Rice negotiated in 2005, but which was never fully implemented. That element would presumably appeal to Hamas, which has framed its rocket fire as an act of resistance because Israel has refused to end its Gaza blockade.

The spokesman suggested that international monitoring provisions of the 2005 movement and crossings accord could be strengthened.

"There are a lot of different ways to come at this. In terms of the crossings, there is a provision in there for monitors-the Palestinian Authority working with EU monitors. And for some time that was working quite well on the Rafah crossing [between Gaza and Egypt]. And again, that can serve as a model for reopening those crossings. But again, all these pieces have to fit together," he said.

McCormack said Rice had had 17 telephone conversations with foreign officials since Saturday, mainly European Union counterparts though there also were two conversations Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, whose government has been a go-between with Hamas.

The spokesman said Rice has no travel plans in connection with the Gaza crisis. Sunday she canceled what was to have been her final trip abroad as Secretary of State, instead sending her deputy John Negroponte to inaugurate the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and to attend an observance in Beijing of the 30th anniversary of full U.S. relations with mainland China.