The Obama administration on Tuesday issued a range of statements firmly and repeatedly expressing support for an Israeli campaign aimed at halting weeks of escalating rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, hours after Jerusalem announced that it had launched a series of air strikes as part of what the Israelis are labeling Operation Protective Edge.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki made nearly parallel remarks at their respective daily press briefings, condemning rocket fire into Israel – claimed by both Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups – and expressing concern for Israeli and Palestinian civilians being endangered by the Hamas-driven escalation.
Earnest expressed administration concerns on the escalating situation:
Q Josh, the situation in Israel seems to be escalating rather quickly, with air raid sirens going off this morning in Tel Aviv and up to 40,000 reservists called for a possible ground invasion in Gaza. What is the U.S. doing to calm the situation? And is there any effort to negotiate a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.
At the same time, we appreciate the call that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has made publicly to act responsibly. We’re concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides. This means both the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes and the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s violence.
For her part Psaki condemned the rocket fire from Gaza:
QUESTION: As you are aware no doubt, the Israeli Air Force is conducting operations over in Gaza right now, and I’m wondering what you make of that. Also, the rockets have been – are being fired into southern Israel. Tel Aviv was – there were air raid sirens in Tel Aviv. What’s your take on the situation? Do you believe that this is the kind of restraint that you’ve been calling for from both sides for the past week or so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. We appreciate – we’re concerned, of course, about the safety and security of civilians, as you mentioned. I know there’s been a range of reported attacks that have gone directly on both sides, the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes, the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s action.
The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu Friday and again on Sunday. He’s been in regular contact. Let me just make sure he hasn’t had a call today as well. Not today, but he’s been in close contact and he’s reiterated our concern, as our teams have on the ground, to both sides about the need to de-escalate the tensions on the ground. We’ve also – he’s also been in touch with leaders in the region about our concerns about what’s happening on the ground.
So in terms of what’s happening specifically today, our hope is certainly that by sending a strong message that Israel will be able to deter some of the attacks that have been happening that have been coming at them from Gaza. And again, I would just reiterate our view that they have the right to defend themselves.
The Israelis continued their campaign overnight and into Wednesday local time, with the Israeli Air Force having struck roughly 270 targets since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge.
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