The Bush administration backed Israel against Hamas

The Bush administration backed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military offensive against Hamas in Gaza even though a leader of the Palestinian group has pledged to halt rocket attacks on Israel.

Clearly disbelieving the promise, and still denouncing Hamas as a terrorist group, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that Hamas attacked Israel after the statement was made.

Earlier Monday, Israeli aircraft attacked suspected weapons factories throughout Gaza, from which Sharon withdrew all Israeli settlers and troops in an operation completed two weeks ago. Like the Bush administration, the Israeli leader is looking to the Palestinian Authority to dismantle Hamas.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told Congress that the Palestinian Authority must move quickly to establish order and take steps "to dismantle the infrastructure of terror." Welch, who has met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders frequently all year, said, that overall Palestinian Authority performance to date has been far from satisfactory.

McCormack slightly qualified U.S. support Monday for Israel's foray into Gaza. In talks last weekend with Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders, McCormack said, they have urged all to help maintain an atmosphere of calm, free from violence.

Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza has drawn praise from the administration and many governments around the world. It has cost him political support among his own hard-line Likud party. McCormack said the Palestinian Authority understands its obligations to "maintain a greater atmosphere of calm."

In Gaza, Israeli aircraft attacked what the Israelis said were suspected weapons factories around Gaza City and the southern Gaza towns of Rafah and Khan Younis. The airstrikes knocked out power to the eastern part of Gaza City and damaged several buildings.

Last week, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar called for an end to rocket attacks on Israel. Zahar said Hamas remained committed to a seven-month-old cease-fire and he wanted to prevent further Israeli attacks, AP reports.

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