U.S. sharpens criticism of Israeli action in Gaza
Security Council calls on Israel to stop demolishing homes
From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration stepped up criticism of Israel Thursday for its operations in Gaza, and called on the government to exercise restraint.
President Bush said during a Cabinet meeting he was seeking clarification from the Israeli government about the innocent loss of life in Rafah on Thursday.
"I continue to urge restraint. It is essential that people respect innocent life, in order for us to achieve peace," Bush said.
The U.S. also abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop demolishing homes in southern Gaza.
The resolution passed with a 14-0 vote.
Previously the United States has vetoed Security Council resolutions condemning Israel, contending they were not balanced.
The State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by the "tragic loss of life" in Gaza Wednesday, and it is waiting for the investigation into the circumstances. Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said various levels of the U.S. government have been in contact with the Israelis about the incident.
"We oppose the demolition of homes of innocent Palestinians," Ereli said. "We have registered our deep concern. We have made it clear that restraint is critical. And we've made it clear that innocent life has to be respected on both sides."
A State Department official earlier told CNN the United States was working with Algeria on amended text "intended to give context" to the Israeli operation of fighting terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a meeting Tuesday with Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also expressed concern about the escalation of violence and urged Israel to use restraint, Ereli said.
Ereli said Wednesday the United States also is very concerned about the "deteriorating humanitarian conditions" in Rafah and southern Gaza, and is calling on the Israelis to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. He also said the United States continued to talk to Israel about reports that Israel has denied access to ambulances trying to reach the wounded.
But he pointed out the Palestinian Authority has not done enough to fight terror, and urged Palestinian leaders to work to end the smuggling of arms through the tunnels and train Palestinian police.
"We believe that there are security measures that can and should be taken, urgently, both by the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and Egypt, with the support of the international community to address the problems in this area," he said.
Ereli also called on both the Israelis and Palestinians to re-establish a dialogue, get back to the political process and take steps to end the cycle of violence.
"That is one of the reasons why we think that the Sharon plan provides such an opportunity, because it offers a chance of breaking the cycle of violence, withdrawing from territory, abandoning settlements, giving Palestinians control over land, and reinvigorating institutions that can meet the needs of the people," Ereli said, adding the United States will continue to "engage closely" with both parties.