President Barack Obama said the U.S. will continue to support Israel in its battle against Palestinian missiles, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the country was ready to broaden its Gaza operation.
“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 at a press conference in Bangkok, where he began a three-nation trip that will include the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Myanmar.
“There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens,” Obama said.
Obama’s comments in Bangkok came hours after Netanyahu told his cabinet that the Israeli military is prepared for a “significant expansion of its operations” in Gaza. “We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas,” he said.
Israel deployed tanks near the border, threatening the first ground invasion of Gaza since the attack in December 2008 that killed more than 1,100 Palestinians. Israel says its military goal is to make Palestinians stop firing the hundreds of rockets from the Hamas-controlled territory that have killed three Israelis.
The U.S., Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today called on Israel and Palestinians to enter a cease-fire within 24 hours.
Obama said that his message to Erdogan, as well as Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, was that it would be “preferred” if Israel could deter missiles from landing in its territory without ramping up military activity in Gaza. “That’s not just preferable to the people of Gaza, that’s also preferable to Israelis,” he said.
“We are going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours,” Obama said.
Obama made clear that a lasting peace would only be achieved when both Israelis and Palestinians worked toward a two-state solution.
The conflict threatens a region still unbalanced after a wave of popular uprisings last year, including one in Israel’s neighbor Syria that has turned into a civil war.
Yesterday’s comment by Mursi, that there were indications an agreement to halt the violence may be reached, were undermined by air-raid sirens and loud booms over Tel Aviv today. Two rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. A rocket landed in Jerusalem on Nov. 16, the first such attack in decades.
Israeli air assaults yesterday killed 15 Palestinians, lifting the toll since Nov. 14 to 45, including 13 civilians and an 11-month-old child, Ashraf al-Qedra of the Gaza health ministry said.
A rocket hit the sea south of Tel Aviv on Nov. 15 and another landed near Jerusalem the following day, the first such attack in decades.
Israeli forces fired artillery shells early today in the Golan Heights after gunfire from Syria hit an army vehicle, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an Israeli military spokeswoman. The firing on the Israeli vehicle didn’t cause any injuries, AFP cited the spokeswoman as saying.
Israeli missiles struck a Hamas media center in central Gaza early today, Al Arabiya television reported.
The U.S., Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
“If we are serious about wanting to resolve this situation,” Obama said. “It starts with no more missiles fired into Israel’s territory.”