WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi Wednesday night about rocket attacks being launched from Gaza into Israel and escalating violence in the Gaza Strip.
The White House said Obama reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense from rocket attacks being launched against its civilians and urged Israel to “make every effort to avoid civilian casualties” in its response. Obama and Netanyahu agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow tensions to ease, the White House said. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch in the coming days. Earlier Wednesday Netanyahu also spoke to Vice President Joe Biden on the events in Gaza.
Israel carried out a blistering offensive of more than 50 airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, assassinating Hamas’ military commander in the most intense attack on the territory in nearly four years.
Israel said the airstrikes, launched in response to days of rocket fire out of Hamas-ruled Gaza, were the beginning of a broader operation against Islamic militants. Israeli defense officials said a ground operation was a strong possibility in the coming days though they stressed no decisions had been made.
Obama spoke separately to Morsi, given Egypt’s central role in preserving regional security, the White House said. The two men agreed on the need to de-escalate the conflict as quickly as possible.
With at least 10 Palestinians dead, including two young children, Wednesday’s offensive was certain to set off a new round of heavy fighting with Gaza militants, who have built up a formidable arsenal of rockets and missiles.
It also threatened to upset Israel’s relations with neighboring Egypt and shake up the campaign for Israeli elections in January. In a preliminary response, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest.
Israel’s relations have been deteriorating with Egypt’s new Islamist government, and Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert has become a staging ground for militant attacks on Israel.