Israel did not seek US approval before launching a ground invasion against Hamas, in an escalation of the bloodiest Israeli-Palestinian clash in years.
From the White House to Capitol Hill, US officials remained firmly behind Israel. They urged a ceasefire, but put the onus on Hamas, as Israeli troops and tanks cut through the Gaza Strip.
US lawmakers defended the Israeli ground incursion as a justifiable response to Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
Vice President Dick Cheney said Israel “didn’t seek clearance or approval from us” before thousands of soldiers pushed into Gaza after nightfall yesterday.
He did not directly answer whether Israel informed its powerful ally, the US, of its plans before launching them. But the ground offensive, which followed a week of punishing aerial raids on Hamas, had been expected as Israeli forces deployed near the border.
“They have said, now, for a period of months – they told me on my last trip over there – that they didn’t want to have to act, where Gaza was concerned,” Cheney said.
“They had gotten out of there three years ago. But if the rocketing didn’t stop, they felt they had no choice but to take action. And if they did, they would be very aggressive, in terms of trying to take down Hamas. And that’s exactly what’s happened.”
US leaders have carefully noted the consequences of a new war, including a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the death of civilians there. But they blame Hamas, which has called for the destruction of Israel and is deemed by the US government to be a terrorist organisation.
The Gaza crisis forced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cancel a long-planned trip to China this week.
Rice has been making a stream of phone calls to allies in the Mideast and Europe in the hope of fostering a ceasefire in Gaza, but has no plans to visit the Mideast as part of that effort.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will travel to Beijing on Wednesday in Rice’s place to honour 30 years of US-China diplomatic ties, the State Department announced.
Hamas-run Gaza has been largely isolated from the rest of the world since the Islamic militants won parliamentary elections in 2006. Then Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, expelling forces loyal to the moderate Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who oversees the West Bank.
The ground invasion and live images of the fighting in Gaza drew international condemnations and dominated news coverage on Arab satellite TV stations, many of which aired footage of wounded Palestinians at hospitals. Hamas threatened to turn Gaza into an Israeli “graveyard”.
The new fighting brought the death toll in the Gaza Strip to more than 500 since December 27, according to Palestinian health officials and UN officials, who say at least 100 civilians are among the dead.
Hundreds of rockets have hit Israel since the offensive began, and four Israelis have been killed. One Israeli soldier has been killed in the ground attack so far.