For the first time since the start of the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, U.S. President George Bush has gone before television cameras to talk about the Mideast crisis. 

The president stayed quiet during the first week of the Israeli military operation.

He was on a holiday break at his Texas ranch, and let his spokesman speak on his behalf.

His voice was first heard addressing the situation in Gaza last Friday in his weekly radio address. On Monday, he went a step further - making brief comments to reporters called into his office to witness the final moments of a meeting with First Vice President Salva Kiir of Sudan.

He said Israel was justified in taking action against Hamas militants in Gaza.

"I understand Israel's desire to protect itself, and that the situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," said Mr. Bush.

The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.  And while he has urged Israel to do all it can to limit civilian casualties, President Bush has not called for a complete end to the assault. In his comments at the White House he made clear once again that he believes Hamas is using the people of Gaza to achieve militant ends.

"Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to launch rockets to kill innocent Israelis. And Israel has obviously decided to protect herself and her people," he said.

He spoke as the Israeli military continued its assault on Gaza for a tenth straight day, and Hamas fired more rockets into southern Israel.

The death toll in Gaza now tops more than 540.  The president said he remains concerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding there.

"We care about the people of Gaza, and, therefore, have provided millions of dollars of fresh aid to the United Nations to help," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush stressed once again that while he would like to see the violence end, any cease-fire must be durable and respected by all.

He noted that calls for Israel to end the assault are coming from many quarters - both inside and outside the Arab world. He said those urging an immediate end to the fighting have noble ambitions.  But he said any cease-fire must include conditions so Hamas can not use Gaza as a launch pad for rocket attacks on Israel.