Obama Backs Mideast Truce Efforts, Seeks Easing of Gaza Isolation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

President Barack Obama voiced his backing for Egyptian efforts to broker a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza but also called for a longer-term solution that provides for Israeli security while offering Gaza residents hope they will not remain “permanently closed off from the world.”

While condemning Hamas as “extraordinarily irresponsible” for launching rockets from population centers, Obama on Wednesday urged an eventual “formula” to ease hardships of ordinary Palestinians who have suffered in the latest conflict.

“Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity — jobs, economic growth — for the population that lives there,” Obama said at the end of a summit hosting African leaders in Washington.

“We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt,” Obama said.

“The question then becomes,” Mr. Obama said, “can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks … but at the same time ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off?”

Obama said there was a need to begin the rebuilding process in Gaza, though he stopped well short of calling for an end to the blockade there — something Hamas has demanded but which Israel refuses for security concerns.