WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama discussed on Thursday the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and said "the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild Gaza. Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off".
In an apparent message to 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.
"The US goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire 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’re not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen over the last several weeks," Obama said.
"I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza. And 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, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops into their country. But at the same time, ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza," the US president added.
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 think there are formulas that are available, but they’re going to require risks on the part of political leaders," he added, noting that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority must be involved in the process.
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.
"I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities," Obama stressed, "and as a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself. I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately sighting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy."
At the same time, Obama expressed his distress "at what’s happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process. And I’m very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire.
"The question is now how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way."
Reuters contributed to this report.