World Middle East

Gaza cease-fire will take 'some time,' Obama says

The collapse of the Gaza cease-fire will make a new halt difficult to arrange, Obama says
Obama 'unequivocally' condemns Hamas for the breakdown of the cease-fire

The attack by Palestinian militants on Israeli soldiers that ended a planned cease-fire will make it difficult for Israel to have confidence that Hamas will live up to any future cease-fire deal, President Obama said Friday.

As a result, arranging a halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip "will take some time," Obama said at a White House news conference.

"It's going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together if the Israelis and the international community can't feel confident Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment," he said.

Obama's remarks underscored how the breakdown of the ceasefire appears to have brought his administration and Israel closer together after several days of increasing tension in the relationship.

The president emphasized his support for Israel's self-defense, even while expressing a desire to have Israel try to reduce civilian casualties.

Israelis were "entirely right" to try to dismantle Hamas's network of tunnels beneath Gaza, he said, but added that "there is  a way of doing that while still reducing the bloodshed." 

The planned three-day cease-fire broke down after 90 minutes Friday morning when two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was apparently abducted. The militants shot two Israeli soldiers who had come to destroy a tunnel, then pulled another soldier back into the tunnel with them.

Obama said he "unequivocally condemned" the militants, and called on them to release the soldier "as soon as possible."

There have been some indications that the militants may have members of another Palestinian faction, rather than Hamas. But even if they were, that made no difference, Obama said, because Hamas as the governing authority in Gaza and signatory to the agreement is responsible for all of them.

"When they sign on to a cease-fire, they're claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions," he said.

U.S. officials, working with the United Nations and Egypt, hoped when they announced the cease-fire Thursday night that it would lead to talks in Egypt about a longer-term halt in fighting. But the collapse has again set back U.S. efforts to end the war, and left uncertain when the fighting will stop.

For more foreign policy news, follow me at @richtpau

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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