President Barack Obama suggested Sunday that it was “preferable” that Israel did not launch a ground invasion in Gaza, but stood firm over support of its ally despite mounting Palestinian civilian casualties.
Speaking at the start of a three-day tour of south-east Asia, he reiterated the White House position that rockets fired into Israel by Hamas were the “precipitating event” in the ratcheting up of cross-border conflict.
Obama added that America had been “actively working with all the parties in the region” to bring about a de-escalation of violence and that the next 48 hours would be important if progress were to be made.
The comments come on a backdrop of a continuing pummeling of Gaza from missile strikes. Overnight, two children died and 12 people were injured when houses were hit in northern Gaza by Israeli shells.
Since Wednesday, 57 Palestinians have been killed as a result of air strikes, including 24 civilians. More than 400 Gazans have been wounded, according to medics.
Meanwhile, Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel, resulting in three civilian deaths.
Despite the growing number of Palestinian casualties, Obama again declined to criticise the show of force by its traditional Middle East ally during Sunday’s press conference.
He blamed Hamas for provoking Israel with an “ever-escalating number of missiles”.
“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.
“And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself,” Obama said.
Asked whether he believed an Israeli ground invasion would be an escalation of the conflict and if he would support such a move, Obama said he had been in regular contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and with Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
“My message to all of them was Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”
“If this can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable, that’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it’s also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded,” he said.
He added: “We’re going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours.”