Obama Presses Netanyahu: It Is Imperative to Reach Immediate Humanitarian Cease-fire

Senior U.S. official: Israeli criticism of Kerry was 'extremely offensive.'

Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, the third such call since the launch of the IDF operation in Gaza. Obama stressed to Netanyahu that it is "strategically imperative" to reach an immediate humanitarian cease-fire "that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement," following operation Pillar of Defense.
 
Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. supports the Egyptian cease-fire initiative as well as the international and regional efforts to bring about an end to hostilities. The president also stressed that the Palestinian Authority must be part of the solution in the Gaza Strip, and that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must include the disarmament of terrorist organizations and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

Obama stressed to Netanyahu the importance of "ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority."

The U.S. president also condemned the firing of rockets by Hamas and expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself. He made clear that the U.S. is concerned over the rising number of civilian Palestinian casualties in Gaza and the humanitarian situation there, as well as over the loss of Israeli lives.

Kerry criticism 'offensive'

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official responded on Sunday to criticism leveled by senior Israeli government officials in recent days against Secretary of State John Kerry's cease-fire proposal.

Speaking in a conference call with Israeli journalists, the official said that "some of the reports contained overheated assertions that mischaracterized Kerry's work and motivations. The criticism was extremely offensive. Mainly the charges that he betrayed our closest ally in the region – Israel."

The senior official added that the draft proposal presented by Kerry to Israel on Friday was intended "for Israeli comments and input" as part of a coordinated effort by the U.S. and Israel to secure a cease-fire. "The text was based on the Egyptian text from a week before. Israel accepted that Egyptian text."

The official rejected Israeli claims that Kerry's document served Hamas' interests more than Israel's. He defended the talks between Kerry and the foreign ministers from Turkey and Qatar – who negotiated on behalf of Hamas – and said that both countries have influence and direct lines to Hamas, and this is the only way to reach a cease-fire.  

"This is why Kerry coordinated with Turkey and Qatar and met with them in Paris," he said. "It has nothing to do with pleasing Hamas – but to give a clear message and to receive a response. In Paris Kerry was in contact with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian officials to update them."  

According to the official, the U.S. sees Egypt's role in the cease-fire talks as extremely important. "Egyptian leadership is indispensable and this is why we endorsed the Egyptian initiative. Everything is under the auspices of the Egyptian initiative and we believe that any negotiations should be in Egypt," he said.  

Since the beginning of the crisis, the official added, both Obama and Kerry have supported Israel at every junction, and have blamed Hamas for the eruption of violence in the Gaza Strip. They also shielded Israel from international criticism, he said, adding that since the start of the crisis Kerry has spoken daily with Netanyahu, sometimes a few times a day.

The official said that the U.S. wants to see a cease-fire reached because it is "seriously concerned about severe humanitarian and strategic consequences of this conflict and about rising number of civilian casualties."

AFP