WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama offered the help of the United States on Thursday in negotiating a cease-fire to end escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, as world leaders warned of an urgent need to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war that could engulf the fragile region.
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In a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama lent his support to Israel’s efforts to defend itself against an onslaught of rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, but he also called on both Israel and the Palestinians to protect civilians and restore calm. The White House said the U.S. was willing to “facilitate a cessation of hostilities,” potentially along the lines of a 2012 cease-fire that Egypt and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker.
Mounting casualties and the growing prospect of an Israeli ground incursion in Gaza drew alarm at the United Nations, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that it is more urgent than ever to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war that could engulf the entire region. He called on both sides to agree to a cease-fire.
“It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack,” Ban said.
More than 85 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians, since Israel began an offensive on Tuesday against the Hamas militant group in Gaza. The offensive aims to put an end to unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza that has reached deeper into the Jewish state and intensified in recent weeks amid tensions over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.
The offer to help bring about a cease-fire could draw the U.S. deeper into a conflict, but precisely what role the U.S. would play remains unclear. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization and has a policy barring contact with its leaders.
A senior Obama administration official said that policy hasn’t changed but that other players in the Mideast could act as intermediaries, as was the case when Egypt and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure the November 2012 cease-fire. Egypt, Turkey or Qatar are all possibilities, said the official, who demanded anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.
In the phone call, Obama condemned the rockets and said Israel has the right to self-defense. Pro-Israel lawmakers in the U.S. and the State Department have insisted that Hamas is to blame for the fresh round of conflict. Obama also raised his concerns about Tariq Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian-American teenager who was detained and apparently beaten by Israeli authorities.
“The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm. But he also urged both sides not to escalate the crisis,” the White House said in a statement.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS