Strongly defending Israel, the United States President Barack Obama has said no country would tolerate launching of rockets and terror attacks on its cities, as he called for the extension of a ceasefire in Gaza.
“I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza,” Obama told reporters at a news conference in response to questions on the current situation in Gaza.
A 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect on Tuesday and has brought relief to millions on both sides after one month of fighting killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.
“I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities. As a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and, more recently, as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks,” Obama said.
“I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately setting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy,” he said.
Expressing his distress at what is happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process, Obama said he is glad that a temporary ceasefire has been achieved. “The question is now how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way,” he said.
Obama said he intends to support the process that is taking place in Egypt. “I think the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that’s been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict,” he said.
“Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity -- jobs, economic growth -- for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is,” he added.
The American goal, Obama said, right now would be to make sure that the ceasefire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope, and the people of Israel feel confident that they are not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that they have seen over the last several weeks.
“I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for some of the work that has been done in cooperation with Israel and the international community by the Palestinian Authority. They have shown themselves to be responsible. They have recognised Israel. They are prepared to move forward to arrive at a two-state solution,” Obama said.
Image: Palestinians run following an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza city. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/Reuters