VIENNA -- The United States is prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, US President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by phone today.
In the call, Obama "reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks," the White House said in a readout of the conversation.
But Netanyahu has ruled out a ceasefire with Hamas in the short-term. On the contrary, the Israeli leader has vowed a series of additional stages to Operation Protective Edge— his government's response to continued rocket fire on Israeli towns and cities, after Hamas, a terrorist organization, stockpiled tens of thousands of rockets in the coastal territory over the last several years.
A ceasefire is "not even on the agenda," Netanyahu told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, just hours before his call with the US leader.
The president also expressed concern, the press secretary's office continued, "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."
The two discussed the impetus for the crisis: the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, one of whom was also an American citizen. They also discussed a revenge attack in East Jerusalem by extremist Israelis against an innocent Arab teenager, which compounded the crisis.
Obama "acknowledged," the White House added, "Israel’s efforts to resolve this case."
"I would remind you who is at fault here, and that is Hamas," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday, facing a series of accusatory questions from a Palestinian journalist for al-Quds TV in Washington.
Israeli military activities— targeting infrastructure and known terrorist operatives, taking practiced precautions to forewarn Palestinian civilians in advance of an air strike— differ fundamentally from Hamas tactics, Psaki continued: "indiscriminately" firing projectiles, without precision, in the general direction of populated civilian areas.
Leadership in Congress from both parties joined the administration's public support for Israel's continued
operation in Gaza on Thursday, with all parties urging caution while reinforcing that Israel's military actions, thus far, fall within the country's right to defend itself against Hamas terrorism.
Proposing official support, some members of Congress asserted that Hamas' actions constitute terrorism, and not a right of Palestinians to defend themselves.
"There is no moral equivalency between the self-defense actions of Israel and the barbaric actions of Hamas," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), said on Thursday. Along with Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Graham is now proposing a resolution that would "reaffirm the United States’ support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens" and "ensure the survival" of the Israeli state.
The resolution also calls on the Palestinian Authority, funded in large part by Congress, to end its unity government with Hamas, and condemns the firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel as "unprovoked."
“Israel is entitled to take the steps necessary to protect itself from destructive rocket attacks from Hamas that are aimed at all Israeli civilians, regardless of their religion,” said Schumer. “This resolution supports Israel as it protects itself in a manner that values the safety of Palestinian civilians even as its own civilians face indiscriminate attacks from terrorists."
Psaki and Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor faced a barrage of aggressive questions from an Al Jazeera anchor on Thursday afternoon, as the parties and their sympathizers on both sides of the conflict waged in a public relations war on the airwaves.
In the interviews, Prosor and Psaki were asked if they knew how many children had so far died in Gaza from air strikes, and how many more would Israel kill before it ended its operation.
Psaki sent condolences on behalf of the US government to the families with lost loved ones, noting Israel's efforts to forewarn civilians.
Asked whether the US had taken a position on a prospective Israeli military ground invasion into Gaza, Psaki replied that such an outcome was "no one's preference."