Netanyahu and Obama shake hands at start of Oval Office meeting, March 3, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
JERUSALEM -- An immediate and unconditional ceasefire ending Israel's assault on Hamas is a "clear strategic imperative" to Israel, US President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday.
While the conversation focused on the immediate concerns of the United States, the president also discussed the broader implications of Israel's operation in Gaza, Protective Edge, now over two weeks old and burdened with a mounting death toll, both within the Israel Defense Forces and the civilian population of Gaza.
Obama told Netanyahu he wants a 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 White House said, in a readout of the call to reporters.
For a permanent ceasefire to be agreed upon, Hamas is requiring an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza, formed to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons to attack the Jewish state. Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel categorically rejects this condition, and indeed, Netanyahu's cabinet has unanimously voted against the measure as part of an end to the current crisis.
Obama reiterated his belief that Israel has a right to defend itself, and condemned Hamas's construction of tunnels and continuation of rocket fire into civilian areas.
"Ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza," Obama expressed.
In a recent poll, over 85 percent of Israelis support the Israeli government continuing the military operation until Hamas' tunnels into Israel are completely destroyed.