President Barack Obama was unsparing in his criticism of Hamas for violations of a 72-hour ceasefire agreement on Friday in which three Israeli soldiers were killed, and backed allegations that the terrorist group’s systematic use of human shields has resulted in numerous civilian casualties.
Speaking at a White House press conference, Obama said that “I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.”
Referring to Hamas disavowals of responsibility for the acts of other terrorist groups operating in the Gaza Strip, the president echoed the Israeli position: “When they sign onto a ceasefire they’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions. And if they don’t have control of them, and just moments after a ceasefire is signed you have Israeli soldiers being killed and captured, then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a ceasefire can actually be honored.”
Obama mentioned again his concern over the Palestinian death toll, but he stressed “Israel’s right to defend itself, and it’s got to be able to get at those rockets and those tunnel networks.
“On the other hand, because of the incredibly irresponsible actions on the part of Hamas to oftentimes house these rocket launchers right in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, we end up seeing people who had nothing to do with these rockets ending up being hurt.”
Credit was given to Secretary of State John Kerry for being “persistent” in his efforts at reaching a ceasefire. In an apparent reference to Israeli critics, Obama noted that Kerry “has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed.”
Kerry himself said that the United States condemns “in the strongest possible terms” the [Hamas] attack on Friday, calling it “an outrageous violation of the ceasefire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations.”
On the eve of the failed ceasefire, Kerry made a point of thanking “a lot of folks [who] have been working hard at this effort. I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu, who I know wants to see the people of Israel live in security, free from rockets, free from attacks from tunnels. And I know he has worked hard at this.
“We’ve had many phone calls, sometimes in the middle of the night, and I’m pleased that he thought this moment was an appropriate one to embrace this effort, this ceasefire.”