White House Declines to Criticize Israel on Gaza Incursion

The Bush administration affirmed on Wednesday Israel's right to defend itself against acts of terror and called on the president of the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to help resolve a crisis provoked by the abduction of an Israeli soldier.

The White House and State Department declined to take a position on Israel's pressure offensive in southern Gaza that has knocked out electricity and water supplies for most of the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in Gaza.

But spokesmen again condemned the abduction of an Israeli corporal and said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. diplomats "continue to do everything we can ... to bring this crisis to a peaceful resolution."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptians "have contacts and have capabilities that can be useful in resolving this crisis," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Rice, who is traveling in South Asia, telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for a second time this week, Ereli said. He declined to say whether Israel was informing Rice and other U.S. officials about its military operations and whether the Bush administration was trying to influence Israel's strategy.

"It's generally not our practice to go into the details of diplomatic conversations," Ereli said.

At the same time, the spokesman stressed that "Israel has a right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens." He also urged the Israeli government "to ensure that innocent lives are not harmed" and called on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to "clearly and unequivocally renounce terror."

At the White House, press secretary Tony Snow urged Palestinian militants to release the soldier and Israel to "avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure" as it tries to get him back.

"The hostage-taking and the attacks by Hamas last weekend have precipitated the current events in Gaza," Snow said. "Israel has the right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens. ... Let's just point out, once again, you have the Israeli forces trying to reclaim somebody who was kidnapped and is being held hostage in Gaza. And they are doing what they can to return him."

Snow would not comment on any of the specific actions taken by Israel. "I am not going to get into rendering judgment on any of the operational details of what's going on there," he said.

CountryWatch: Israel