Hamas is responsible for the bloody, swift end to the humanitarian cease-fire with Israel, US President Barack Obama said from the White House on Friday.
He one again vowed to pursue a temporary truce along the border of Gaza that would end the killing.
“We have unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two soldiers, and abducting a third, almost minutes after a cease-fire was announced [on Friday],” Obama said. “That soldier needs to be unconditionally released, as soon as possible.”
Gazan terrorists emerged on Friday morning from a tunnel into Israeli-held territory, less than 90 minutes deep into the planned 72-hour cease-fire. One terrorist detonated a suicide vest, killing two soldiers; another abducted a third soldier, Sec.-Lt. Hadar Goldin, back through the tunnel into Gaza.
While Obama suggested neither the US, nor the Israelis, were sure exactly who perpetrated the attack – Hamas has denied holding an Israeli soldier – he said that Hamas’s ability to enforce a ceasefire relies on its ability to monitor the tunnels it has built to conduct such abductions.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis, and the international community, can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire agreement,” Obama told reporters.
“They’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions.”
“No country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land to conduct terror attacks,” the US president added.
The citizens of Gaza are “stuck in the crossfire,” he noted, explaining his administration’s insistence on a cease-fire, despite Israel’s “legitimate security needs.”
Gazan civilians “have to weigh on our conscience,” he said. “And we have to do more to protect them.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the abduction and killings while flying back to Washington from a visit to India, when an aide printed out a report and handed him the news.
Kerry quickly called Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Muhammad al-Attiyah and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu soon after being informed, according to reporters traveling with the secretary.
In a statement released shortly thereafter, Kerry called the incident “an outrageous violation of the cease-fire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations.”
“Hamas, which has security control over the Gaza Strip, must immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier,” he said. “I call on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message.”
The chief US diplomat has been communicating with his counterparts in Qatar and Turkey, governments that support Hamas, as well as with Egypt, to pressure the Gazan group to end its attacks against Israelis. Washington maintains no line of contact with Hamas itself, a terrorist organization as designated by the US and the European Union.
“We have urged them, implored them to use their influence to do whatever they can to get that soldier returned,” a senior State Department official told the traveling press. “Absent that, the risk of this continuing to escalate, leading to further loss of life, is very high.”
The US, EU, Russia and United Nations, together known as the Quartet on the Middle East, has called on Hamas to renounce violence, recognize the State of Israel, respect previous agreements reached with the PLO and work with its security forces. Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel.
Reuters contributed to this report.