Bush speaks to Olmert

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Bush called Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert to get an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza.

During the Wednesday morning call, Olmert "assured President Bush that Israel is taking appropriate steps to avoid civilian casualties" and is only targeting Hamas and "people involved with Hamas," said White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe.

Johndroe said the United States wants to see an end to the violence but had not asked Israel to accept a cease-fire.

"I think President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets and that is what will be the first steps in a cease-fire," Johndroe said. "We want to see a cease-fire that is durable, that is lasting, and that, in particular, is respected by Hamas."

Johndroe said that was consistent with the call Tuesday by the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — for a "sustainable" cease-fire.

Asked whether Bush and Olmert had discussed a ground offensive by Israel in Gaza, Johndroe said that "ground offensive" is "a term that encompasses a lot of things. It probably means different things to different people. And I think it is just part and parcel of the overall operation that Israel is undertaking to rid Hamas of its ability to fire rockets into Israel."

Bush and Olmert also discussed the humanitarian shipments going into Gaza, with Johndroe saying that the United States believes there was a "good flow" of medical supplies, food and other humanitarian goods entering the territory.

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