Obama backs Mideast truce efforts, seeks easing of Gaza isolation

Published: August 7, 2014
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 A Palestinian boy stands next to the remains of a mosque in Khuzaa town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 6, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

A Palestinian boy stands next to the remains of a mosque in Khuzaa town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 6, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egyptian efforts to broker a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza but also called for a longer-term solution that provides for Israeli security while offering Gaza residents hope they will not remain “permanently closed off from the world.”

Obama said the short-term US goal is to make sure that a 72-hour truce holds and is extended beyond its Friday deadline, including the cessation of cross-border rocket fire by the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

While condemning Hamas as “extraordinarily irresponsible” for launching rockets from population centers, Obama urged an eventual “formula” to ease hardships of ordinary Palestinians who have suffered in the latest conflict. Israel maintains a Gaza blockade that is supported by neighbouring Egypt on the strip’s southern border.

“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,” Obama said at the end of a summit hosting African leaders in Washington.

The Gaza truce held through its second day on Wednesday, and Israel said it was ready to extend the deal as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israelis and Palestinians on an enduring end to a war that devastated the enclave.

“We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt,” Obama said.

“The question then becomes: can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks … but at the same time ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off?” he said.

Obama said there was a need to begin the rebuilding process in Gaza, though he stopped well short of calling for an end to the blockade there – something Hamas has demanded but which Israel has long resisted, citing security concerns.

Obama repeated his support for US ally Israel’s “right to defend itself” but also reiterated his “distress” at the loss of civilian life in Gaza.

In an apparent message to hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama also backed a negotiating role for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s mainstream Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank. Its rival, Hamas – which vows Israel’s destruction – rules the Gaza Strip.

He said Abbas was “sincere in his desire for peace” and his support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, but that his leadership had been weakened by the Gaza crisis.

“My hope is that we’ll be engaging with them to try to move what has been a very tragic situation over the last several weeks into a more constructive path,” Obama said.

Obama, whose administration has failed to make headway in Middle East peacemaking since taking office, said reaching a broader Gaza deal would require leaders on both sides to take risks and acknowledged that any progress would be slow.

“I don’t think we get there right away,” he said. “But the US goal right now would be to make sure that the ceasefire holds.”

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Ajamal
    Aug 7, 2014 - 12:16PM

    Mr. Obama – for you “security” is only for Israel, no one else.

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  • Ajamal
    Aug 7, 2014 - 12:26PM

    As Seumas Milne wrote in The Guardian, “Gaza is a crime made in Washington as well as Jerusalem”.
    Global revulsion at the mind-numbing carnage of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza seems finally to have spurred some of the western political class to speak out. The resignation of Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister, in protest against her government’s “morally indefensible” stance, emboldened Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, to demand the suspension of arms export licences to Israel.

    Last week it was Ed Miliband who condemned Israel’s invasion and the prime minister’s “silence on the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians”. Even the United States administration denounced its strategic protege’s “disgraceful” bombardment of a school, while Barack Obama described Palestinian suffering as “ heartbreaking” – as if he had nothing to do with it.

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  • Rex Minor
    Aug 7, 2014 - 2:03PM

    The Gazans have not surrendered yet. Nor will Hamas recognise the cease fire without lifting of the siege. The region is slowly but steadily going into abyss as destabilisation takes firm roots in the region from Libya to Iraq and Syria and Lebanon to Israel!

    Rex Minor

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  • vinsin
    Aug 7, 2014 - 3:29PM

    @Ajamal:
    US is the biggest security provider of Muslims states including Pakistan.

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  • AJamal
    Aug 7, 2014 - 7:36PM

    @vinsin: No Sir. Pakistan has an standing Army of 700, 000 and a population of over 180 million. US military aid to Pakistan is only USD 700 million mostly in technical assistance.
    But that has to do with Israeli crimes?

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  • vinsin
    Aug 8, 2014 - 2:30AM

    @AJamal:
    You talked about security then you changed the topic. File the case in International court then and prove it. Don’t be surprised if counter filed for crime against minorities, Bangladesh and Baluchistan.

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  • AJamal
    Aug 8, 2014 - 10:05AM

    @vinsin: Palestinians are in the process of filing war crimes case. If Pakistan also ever did commit war crimes, it should also face the court.
    No country should be above the law.

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  • vinsin
    Aug 8, 2014 - 1:58PM

    @AJamal:
    That is good then. But can a Tibetian file a case against china, Chechnian and ukrainian against Russia, Iraqi against USA, Israel against Jordan or Arab countries the answer is difficult, even though that should be the case but world boundaries are made unfairly. But yes in an ideal world, we expect that all the boundary conflicts between states should be resolved by International courts.

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