WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss how the two countries could help bring an end to escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a White House official said on Saturday.
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters the United States "wants the same thing as the Israelis want," which is an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
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The United States is emphasizing diplomacy and "de-escalation" as keys to solving the conflict, Rhodes said.
He added that the US is taking diplomatic steps to bring about a lull and said that the Iron Dome system has played dramatic role in protecting Israeli citizens. Rhodes expressed hope that the system would increase chances of achieving a ceasefire without a ground operation in Gaza.
He further noted that President Obama will be regularly briefed on the situation while traveling in Asia.
Obama will be briefed during Asia tour (Photo: AP)
The White House stressed that Israel has the right to defend itself and to make its own military decisions. It was further emphasized that the US opposes any effort to provide arms to Hamas - a possible message to Iran.
Rhodes disputed that a precipitating factor was the Israeli air strike that Hamas' Ahmed Jabari.
“Just to be clear on the precipitating factor: These rockets had been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now. So Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rocket for far too long and that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza.”
Asked about Israel targeting government buildings, including Haniyeh’s headquarters, Rhodes said: “We wouldn’t comment on specific targeting choices by the Israelis other than to say that we of course always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties. But the Israelis again will make judgments about their military operations.”
Meanwhile, the US is stepping up security around Israeli and Jewish centers. Since Wednesday, New York City Police have beefed up security around the US Consulate in Manhattan.
Security guards were also placed at every synagogue in the city, according to CBS. On NBC, it was reported that despite the fact that there was no intelligence on plans to hit those targets, NYPD have also decided to step up security around the United Nations headquarters and various diplomatic missions in Manhattan.
Earlier on Saturday, Erdoan fiercely slammed Israel over Operation Pillar of Defense. Speaking at the Cairo University he said that Israel "was turning the region into a blood swamp." He further added, "Every drop of Palestinian blood is pouring from the veins of all Muslims and every tear dropping from their eyes is our tear too."
Erdogan and Morsi in Cairo (Photo: AFP)
Prior to the speech, the Turkish prime minister met with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi whom he praised for recalling Egypt's ambassador from Tel Aviv.
After the meeting, Egypt's presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that the two discussed the situation in Gaza as well as Cairo's efforts to "stop the Israeli aggression against Gaza."
Morsi told Erdogan that Egypt continues, together with other nations, to try and stop the aggression. Erdogan, it was reported, is set to meet with the Egyptian leader again later on Saturday.
The two were meant to sign a number of financial and diplomatic agreements. After the signing, Erdogan will hold a press conference together with his Egyptian counterpart, Hisham Kandil.
Roi Kais and Reuters contributed to this report
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