Obama reaffirms Israel’s right to defend itself

International community voices concern over increasing civilian casualties in Gaza.

President Shimon Peres with US President Barack Obama at the White House (photo credit: OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT)
President Shimon Peres with US President Barack Obama at the White House
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left for the Middle East on Saturday, amid key voices around the world supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, while expressing concern about the civilian casualties in Gaza.
US President Barack Obama issued a statement on Friday, reaffirming his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
“No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory,” said Obama, who spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier in the day.
Obama pointed out that while he was speaking to the prime minister, “sirens went off in Tel Aviv.”
“I also made clear that the United States, and our friends and allies, are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life,” Obama said of his conversation with Netanyahu.
“Although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels, and we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the ceasefire that was reached in November of 2012.”
Speaking on Channel 2 news Saturday night, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that the US will work lessen Hamas’s influence in Gaza following the current operation.
“At the end of this conflict, we’ll seek to help the moderate elements among the Palestinians to become stronger in Gaza. They might be able to run Gaza more effectively than Hamas, a terror organization,” said Shapiro.
Meanwhile, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Ban was “prepared to do his part” to end the violence.
Feltman said that while Israel has legitimate security concerns, the United Nations “is alarmed by Israel’s heavy response.”
Regarding the ground incursion, Feltman said that Ban is “extremely concerned that this escalation will further increase the already appalling death toll among Gazan civilians.”
Netanyahu, who on Friday spoke to numerous world leaders to shore up understanding for Israel’s actions, spoke to Ban and said Israel was sorry for all accidental harm befalling Gazan civilians.
Hamas, he said, intentionally fires at millions of Israeli civilians.
Netanyahu told Ban there was no symmetry between murderous terrorist organizations and a democratic and moral country attacked by rockets and via tunnels.
He called on the UN to publish the pictures of rockets stored in an UNRWA school, saying that Hamas hides rockets in schools in order to fire them on Israeli schools.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, issued a statement on Friday saying Israel has the “right to defend itself,” and that this must be done in a “reasonable manner.”
France, whose Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Israel Saturday evening and met with Netanyahu, issued a statement saying it was “very concerned” by Israel’s decision to launch a ground offensive, and called on Israel to act with “maximum restraint.”
France, according to diplomatic officials, is among the group of countries interested in issuing an expansive statement following a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday that would also deal with details of the diplomatic process, such as settlement construction, Jerusalem and Area C (the part of the West Bank that, under the Oslo Accords, is under full Israel control).
Israel is trying to avoid that type of statement at this time, wanting instead to see a short statement focusing on the situation in Gaza.
Diplomatic official said that a wider statement dealing with issues like the Har Homa neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem and building in E-1 in Ma’aleh Adumim, east of the capital, would be completely out of context and divert attention from the current situation.
On Friday the EU issued a statement saying that it was “very concerned about the escalation in the Gaza Strip, including the resumption of rocket fire into Israel and the Israeli ground operation.”
The statement said there have already been “too many civilian deaths, including many children such as those killed on a beach in Gaza. We strongly deplore such incidents and we call for them to be investigated swiftly. We condemn the continued firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. We share the UN condemnation of the placement of rockets in a UN school.
“Israel has the right to protect its population from this kind of attacks. In doing so, it must act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times,” it said.
Diplomatic officials said that while there has been understanding abroad for Israel’s actions, there will inevitably be more talk of proportionality abroad as the operation continues.
“The game changer has always been a ground operation,” one official said.
Some countries, however, have not shown any understanding. On such country is Brazil, which issued a statement saying that it “vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in the deaths of more than 230 Palestinians, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. The Brazilian government rejects the current Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, which began on the night of July 17 and represents a serious setback to peace efforts.”